GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Canada and Mexico made their cases against the U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling law at the World Trade Organization hearing early last week in Geneva, Switzerland.Other countries, in addition to Canada and Mexico, are also concerned by the C.O.O.L. law. One attorney representing Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas (the Mexican cattlemen’s association) told officials from the North American Meat Processors Association Sept. 17 that 13 other countries weighed in on the C.O.O.L. law. Almost all 13 of the countries supported Canada and Mexico, according to Donald deKeiffer, partner of deKeiffer & Horgan, an international trade law firm in Washington, DC, that represents C.N.O.G. in the U.S.

No other countries except Australia had “real-world” problems with the C.O.O.L. regulations in the context of beef or pork, but were concerned about the adverse precedent of the U.S. policy, in general, deKieffer said.

N.A.M.P. opposes C.O.O.L. and has worked with a coalition of associations in all three countries, as well as the Canadian and Mexican governments, to publicize the harmful impact it has on the cross-border meat trade.

Alejandro Gomez, outside legal counsel to the C.N.O.G. in Mexico, told Phil Kimball, N.A.M.P. executive director, the Mexican government argued C.O.O.L. has caused a $40 to $60 drop in the per head price of Mexican cattle imported into the U.S., and has limited the number of larger packers willing to take the cattle. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s (C.C.A.) Travis Toews, C.C.A. president, said the Government of Canada presented a very compelling case that C.O.O.L. violates the W.T.O. agreement.

The U.S. defense of C.O.O.L. focused on two major points: that C.O.O.L. was constructed to inform consumers, not to restrict trade, and it has not caused any segregation or other negative impact on Canadian cattle.

The Canadian team rebutted the U.S. assertions and argued the market reaction was not only predictable, but, in fact, the intended outcome of C.O.O.L.’s proponents.

Canada presented its case that C.O.O.L. is causing considerable economic harm for Canadian livestock, and submitted extensive evidence. The U.S. did not challenge any of Canada’s economic evidence, but argued these impacts were the result of choices by market participants, not a result of any U.S. government requirement.

This hearing was the first opportunity for the three-person W.T.O. dispute panel to personally engage with Canada, Mexico and the U.S., as well as the “third party” countries.

C.C.A. said the next five weeks will consist of preparing written answers to numerous questions posed by the panel. There also will be an opportunity to provide written rebuttals by late October.

A second oral hearing will take place Dec. 1-2, followed by further written submissions through February. A final panel report is scheduled for July 2011, most likely followed by an appeal taking another year.