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WTO Issues Deadline For Origin Labeling Compliance

An ongoing dispute over country of origin labeling reaches common agreement on timeline

Published on: Dec 5, 2012

The World Trade Organization announced Tuesday that the U.S. will have until May 23, 2013, to comply with WTO rules on technical barriers to trade in response to complaints from Mexico and Canada that the U.S. discriminated against meat imported from the two countries.

Though Canada and Mexico both lobbied for earlier compliance timelines – Jan. 23 and March 23, respectively – neither lobby was successful. The arbitrator's decision may not be appealed.

The initial June ruling found that the U.S. was non-compliant with technical barriers to trade due to mandatory country of origin labeling for selected fresh meat products. Representatives from the Canadian Agriculture and Trade Ministries issued a statement supporting the ruling.

An ongoing dispute over country of origin labeling reaches common agreement on timeline
An ongoing dispute over country of origin labeling reaches common agreement on timeline

"Our Government has stood firm with our cattle and hog producers against the unfair country-of-origin labelling of the U.S. The WTO Appellate Body has recognized the integrated nature of the North American supply chain and marked a clear win for our livestock industry," said Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

The two said they expected the U.S. to comply with the WTO arbitrator's ruling and were pleased with the chosen timeline.

"Canada and the United States enjoy the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world. Reducing obstacles to trade has contributed to mutually beneficial supply chains, making both countries more competitive domestically and internationally. Removing onerous labeling measures, and the unfair, unnecessary costs that go with them, will improve competitiveness, boost growth, and help strengthen the prosperity of Canadian and American producers alike."

The decision represents an extensive debate that representatives from U.S. and Canadian livestock industries have addressed. Though supporters of the measure say it allows consumers to know where their food is sourced, opponents note that increased processing costs may not have a return on investment.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson released a statement Tuesday about the ruling, explaining that NFU has always supported COOL and the consumer's right to choose, but will also work toward fulfilling WTO requirements.

"NFU will continue to work with USDA and the Office of the United States Trade Representative to ensure that new rules for COOL fit with the WTO's ruling and with consumer demand for more information about the origins of their food," Johnson said.

The original COOL legislation was passed as part of the 2002 Farm Bill and amended in 2008.