WTO sets date for hearing on COOL

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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GENEVA – A public hearing of the United States' country of origin labeling rule is set for Feb. 18-19 in Geneva, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced.

In August, the Canadian government asked the WTO to establish a compliance panel to review US COOL after the US revised the regulation. Under revised COOL regulations, meat packers must label muscle cuts of meat with information about where each of the production steps occurred. But Canadian officials argued that revisions to the rule further hindered Canada's ability to compete with US cattle and hog producers.

The US lost an appeal of a World Trade Organization challenge brought by Canada and Mexico in 2012. The WTO Appellate Body found that COOL regulations violated trade agreements by giving less favorable treatment to Canadian cattle and hogs compared to US domestic livestock. Despite consistent WTO rulings against COOL, US trade officials aren't backing down, and Canada and Mexico are threatening retaliatory tariffs if the WTO rules in their favor. Mexico announced it would suspend preferential tariffs for a variety of produce items, meat, dairy products and other commodities. Additionally, Canada released in June 2013 a list of 38 commodities – mostly agricultural items – that could be targeted for retaliatory trade duties.

COOL also faces opposition from industry groups in the US. In July, eight organizations representing US and Canadian meat and livestock interests sued the US Department of Agriculture to block implementation of the COOL rule on First Amendment grounds, among other arguments. But in a Sept. 11 ruling, US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied the request for an injunction, saying that the focus of the case was on compelled commercial speech, which is generally held to "less exacting constitutional standards".

In September, groups representing US, Canadian and Mexican meat industry interests filed an initial brief as part of an appeal of Judge Brown's ruling.
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