Canada asks WTO to settle US food origin labeling dispute

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: World trade organization, International trade

Canada has asked for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to settle its ongoing dispute with the US over country of origin labeling (COOL) rules.

COOL, introduced with the 2008 Farm Bill, requires origin labeling of meat products as well as some fresh produce in the US. Canada claims that the system has damaged its export market because US meat processors have been required to handle and label Canadian products separately. This has led many of them to simply exclude Canadian products. Moreover, Canadian producers have said that the rules have produced a glut on local markets, thereby depressing prices.

It normally takes around nine months from the formation of a WTO panel to the release of a final report. If it rules in Canada’s favor, Canada could legally impose retaliatory measures against US imports.

Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food Gerry Ritz said: “Canadian farmers and ranchers produce top-quality food, and they are facing unfair discrimination because of COOL legislation. This government is standing up for Canadian farmers and ranchers by exercising Canada’s rights under the WTO, and we are confident our challenge will be successful.”

Canada initially filed a complaint with the WTO over the rules in December, but shelved it to see how the Obama Administration would deal with the issue. However, it held new WTO consultations with the US in June, and these failed to resolve the issue.

But the US government has argued that the rules provide transparency for American consumers.

US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack and trade representative Ron Kirk said in a joint statement on Wednesday: "We believe that our implementation of COOL provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization commitments.

"Countries have agreed since long before the existence of the WTO that country of origin labeling is a legitimate policy. It is common for other countries to require that goods be labeled as to their origin.

"We hope to continue to work with Canada to resolve this issue amicably."

US imports of Canadian livestock were 34 percent lower for the first six months of 2009 compared to the same period last year, according to US Department of Agriculture figures.

COOL applies to beef, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, wild and farm-raised fish, perishable agricultural commodities, ginseng, macadamias, pecans and peanuts.

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