Trudeau says prefers to avoid COOL retaliation on U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shown here Nov. 16 in Turkey, said Canada would “rather not” launch trade retaliation against the U.S., but will do so to “stand up for our farmers.” (Adam Scotti photo courtesy PMO)

Ottawa | Reuters –– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he would prefer not to apply sanctions against the U.S. over a meat labeling dispute, but at the same time warned that he would stand up for Canada’s farmers.

Earlier this week, the World Trade Organization authorized an annual retaliation level of $1.055 billion for Canada, though that was considerably less than what Canada had sought.

The dispute, fought at the WTO since late 2008, stems from the U.S. requirement that retail outlets label meat with information about its origin. Canada has argued that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) has led to fewer of its cattle and pigs being slaughtered in the U.S., or bought at discounts to U.S.-born and -raised livestock.

“We would rather not have to engage in retaliatory measures, but we certainly will, to stand up for our farmers, to stand up for Canadians who have been unfairly addressed and affected by this legislation,” Trudeau told reporters.

“We will continue to make sure that this gets fixed and we’re going to work with Americans, or against them, to make sure that it happens.”

Asked what impact retaliation might have on the relationship between the neighbouring countries, Trudeau said, “The (U.S.) president understands that the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is far greater than any one issue.”

Passed by the U.S. government in 2008 and implemented in 2009, mandatory COOL requires country-of-origin labelling for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and goat meat, and certain perishable commodities sold at retail outlets in the U.S.

Canada’s opposition Conservatives, who while in government spearheaded the country’s challenges of COOL at the WTO, on Wednesday urged the Liberal government to maintain pressure on U.S. lawmakers, some of whom may soon see a bill to repeal COOL.

The Tories’ international trade critic, former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, noted Wednesday each member of the U.S. Senate has received a letter from about 250 U.S. companies and trade associations supporting Canada’s stance on COOL.

Ritz urged Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland to “immediately identify the first U.S. goods Canada intends to impose retaliatory measure on, and keep pressure on the U.S. Senate until they repeal COOL.”

The Tories, while in government, drafted Canada’s shortlist of proposed retaliatory tariffs, aimed mainly at U.S. live cattle and hogs and fresh and frozen beef and pork products.

The list also called for tariffs on U.S. cereal, bread, pasta, frozen potatoes, frozen orange juice, wine, cheese, cocoa, apples, cherries, fowl, maple syrup, ketchup, sugars, glucose and fructose and some other food- and non-food-related wares.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June passed a bill calling for COOL to be repealed.

The Tories’ agriculture critic Chris Warkentin on Wednesday also called on Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to “stop waiting for U.S. inaction and start taking action on behalf of Canadian farmers and ranchers to end these blatantly protectionist rules.”

Reporting for Reuters by Leah Schnurr in Ottawa. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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