Shortly after the World Trade Organization approved $1.01 billion in trade retaliation for Canada and Mexico on the U.S. in response to Country-of-Origin Labeling, ag groups opposing COOL said Congress must act quickly to address the issue before the economy is harmed.
"Today's announcement signals that we have run out of time on this issue," said the COOL Reform Coalition, a collection of opposing groups. "Retaliation could start within days, posing a very real threat to our economy and thousands of American jobs. Unless Congress acts now, companies that export to our two largest trading partners are in jeopardy of losing significant market share that will be difficult to regain."
The WTO announcement is the culmination of several years of disagreements between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. over COOL, which requires meat to be labeled with the country where the animal from which it was derived was born, raised and harvested.
COOL also applies to fish, shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and certain nuts. Canada and Mexico have fought against the policy on the grounds that it is a technical barrier to trade. Many U.S. groups also are in favor of repeal, citing potential damage to trading relationships with Canada and Mexico and depressed economic returns due to the tariffs.
In July, competing solutions from two groups of Senators suggested both voluntary labeling and full repeal approaches, though neither was approved by the full Senate. The House of Representatives, however, already has voted to repeal COOL, hoping to avoid retaliation.
The move pleased Canada's leadership, which released a statement Monday suggesting that if the Senate is to follow suit, retaliation can still be avoided. According to National Cattlemen's Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall, it will take about 10 days to implement the tariffs.
"If the Senate does not act, U.S. beef exports will face a 100% tariff in these [Canada and Mexico], severely diminishing about $2 billion of beef exports annually," added NCBA President Philip Ellis.
Despite the position of anti-COOL groups, two ag groups remain in support of COOL on the basis that it provides additional information for consumers.
Not all opposition
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the WTO decision is a "symptom of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the WTO.
"Time and again the WTO process has undermined U.S. sovereignty and the right of American consumers to know the origin of their food," he said. "Congress now only has one clear path forward for ensuring U.S. regulations are in compliance with the WTO while preserving a meat label with integrity, and that solution is voluntary COOL."
Another beef group, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, cited the decrease of about $2 billion from the tariff amount Canada and Mexico originally asked for several months ago.
"The new figure of $1.01 billion still falls short of providing an accurate representation of the actual 'harm'
to Mexico and Canada via COOL;" USCA President Danni Beer said, "especially given the stable and even increased beef imports from Canada to the U.S.
"While still an inaccurate representation of the market, today’s announcement and reduction of initially inflated figures provides a starting point for discussions."