Ritz Doesn't Expect US To Change COOL Outside WTO

ritz martinez vilsack may222014Gerry Ritz with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Enrique Martínez and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a NAFTA meeting in Mexico City this week (photo courtesy AAFC).

The federal agriculture minister admits he doesn't think the US will change its country of origin meat labeling (COOL) rules before the World Trade Organization gives Canada the go-ahead to retaliate.

First implemented in 2008, the labeling legislation is costing the North American hog and cattle sectors billions of dollars per year, says Gerry Ritz.

COOL was one of the issues discussed as part of a meeting between the top agriculture officials from Canada, the US and Mexico in Mexico City this week. Both Mexico and Canada are challenging the labeling rules at the WTO, and after the meeting Ritz said he doesn't expect the US will reverse its position before the file moves forward at the WTO.

"I don't think that will happen. I think the administration of today is mired down to the point where they're going to ride this right to the bottom. That's unfortunate because it's American jobs that are at risk, and it's the economies of the livestock sector in all three countries that are very much at risk," said Ritz. "This is a wrong-headed political response to a problem that does not and never did exist."

He said "nothing new" came out of his conversations with US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"I did get the feeling they're coming to grips with the fact this one is slipping away from them," said Ritz. "I think there's a growing recognition that this is harming US industry far more than it would ever be any help to American consumers."

If the WTO continues to side with Canada and Mexico, both countries could possibly have clearance to implement retaliatory tariffs on American goods by sometime in 2015. The Canadian government published a list of products that could be face retaliation last summer, and Ritz said he urged Mexican Agriculture Secretary Enrique Martínez to do the same.

"They have a legislative quirk that says they cannot go public with their list until the ruling comes down, but certainly they could make public statements around the fact they had a very comprehensive list around the trucking challenge of 2008. If they could were to come forward and say the list will be that comprehensive plus modernized to today's issues, that certainly would be helpful," said Ritz.



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