WTO finds against US COOL

by Erica Shaffer
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GENEVA – The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization rejected country-of-origin labels on meat. This is the fourth ruling issued by the WTO concerning the United States’ COOL rule.

The panel found that the amended COOL measure is inconsistent with the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement “because it accords less favorable treatment to imported livestock than to like products of US origin,” the panel said in its report.

The latest ruling is a victory for meatpackers and industry organizations that have argued the revised labeling law would result in higher costs and retaliation by Mexico and Canada.

“If there ever was any question that mandatory country-of-origin labeling is a trade barrier that violates our international agreements, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling against the United States today should lay those doubts to rest,” said Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute. “The WTO has spoken not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in panel and appellate body decisions. All four rulings found against the US.”

But groups like the National Farmers Union and R-CALF have supported COOL as a way to satisfy consumer demand for more information about the sources of the foods they buy.

Under the revised COOL rule, US retailers are required to affix labels providing country of origin information on certain products. The rule applies to domestically produced and imported products. Also, a wide range of products fall under the rule's purview, including muscle cuts and ground beef and pork.

The WTO has ruled against US COOL previously. In October 2014, a WTO compliance panel found against amended version of COOL, saying “the amended COOL measure has increased the original COOL measure's detrimental impact on competitive opportunities for imported livestock, and that such detrimental impact does not stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions.” But the Obama administration appealed that ruling against COOL in November.
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