WTO panel named for challenge of U.S. COOL

A panel of three diplomats has been named at the World Trade Organization to hear the complaints from Canada and Mexico over the U.S. government’s mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) on grocery stores’ meat and produce.

The WTO on Monday named Christian Haberli, a Swiss diplomat who has sat on several WTO dispute settlement panels and currently works for Bern University’s World Trade Institute, to chair the panel.

Manzoor Ahmad, Pakistan’s ambassador to the WTO, and Joao Magalhaes, a WTO staffer turned trade consultant, will also sit on the panel hearing Canada’s case.

The panel’s appointment follows requests April 30 from both Canada and Mexico for the WTO to appoint panelists to look into whether these new U.S. labelling requirements were a violation of international trade laws.

According to a WTO notice Tuesday, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, the European Union, Guatemala, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru and Taiwan have reserved their rights to take part in the panel proceedings as third parties.

The WTO’s notice Tuesday didn’t give a specific date, but panel hearings are expected to begin “later this year,” the Canadian Pork Council said in a separate release Thursday.

Launched in September 2008, mandatory COOL requires U.S. retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers through labelling the source of foods such as muscle-cut and ground meats from beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat or chicken; wild or farm-raised fish or shellfish; ginseng; fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables; peanuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts.

Canada and Mexico plan to oppose COOL at the WTO panel as a violation of international trade laws, contending that the law restricts market access and constitutes a technical barrier.

“Forcing U.S. pork processors to segregate Canadian animals and meat imposes unnecessary costs in an already difficult market with little benefit to the American consumer,” Alberta hog farmer Jurgen Preugschas, chair of the Canadian Pork Council, said Thursday.

Furthermore, the council said, the Canadian government has already given the U.S. “ample opportunity” to amend the COOL requirements to reflect the “highly integrated nature” of the hog and pork industries in North America.

“We are grateful that the government has taken action on the matter and that farmers are now a step closer to a decision in the dispute,” Laurent Pellerin, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said in a separate release Friday.

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