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WTO’s face-to-face hearings on COOL wrap up

More questions are still to come from the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement panel as its final face-to-face hearings conclude on Canada’s challenge of U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL).

The hearings ended Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, with a month to come devoted to responding to written questions from the WTO panel, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a release Friday.

The panel’s decision is expected to be published in late July, the CCA said, noting the panel “is certainly not showing its hand” regarding the outcome.

“We are confident that we have clearly demonstrated that COOL has negatively impacted the conditions of competition for Canadian cattle and other livestock in the U.S. market,” CCA president Travis Toews said.

Canada’s economic analysis and statements from U.S. cattle buyers “leave no doubt that COOL has caused a negative differential between the value of U.S. and Canadian cattle,” the association said.

Canada’s summation “was concise but complete and compelling,” Peter Clark, the international trade counsel for the Canadian Pork Council, said in a separate CPC release Friday. “The government/industry team now needs to answer numerous very detailed and very difficult questions from the panel.”

“Abuses”

Clark warned that there may be much more riding on this case’s outcome than Canada’s level of access to the U.S. agrifood market. For example, he said, the European Union is developing a new and “very extensive” labeling regime.

Such a policy, he said, could “seriously erode” market access benefits under Canada’s planned Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU.

“If the panel does not clearly condemn the protectionist abuses of the U.S. COOL measures, country-of-origin labelling could become one of the new non-tariff measures of choice.”

“This case has been expensive for all the parties involved, but living with COOL in its current form is even more costly for Canadian cattle producers,” Toews, who farms at Beaverlodge, Alta., said in the CCA’s release.

“Producers should know that their checkoff dollars ensured that a very strong case was brought forward.”

First conceived in Washington’s 2002 Farm Bill and launched in September 2008, COOL requires U.S. retailers to notify their customers through labelling on the sources of foods such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, fish, fruits, vegetables, peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.

Canada and Mexico contend that COOL violates international trade laws, restricts market access and constitutes a technical trade barrier.

Canadian livestock groups say the law has forced unnecessary costs on U.S. meat processors, who now must either segregate Canadian animals and meat for labelling purposes, or curb their imports from Canada.

Washington has argued that any economic impacts on Canadian and Mexican producers have been due to choices by market participants such as processors and retailers, and not a result of the U.S. government’s labelling law itself.

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