Last week in Ottawa, President Obama, on his first visit to foreign soil as head of state, said "all the right things on trade," according to John Masswhol, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. "He said, ‘I want to grow trade, not constrict it,’ and that you cannot pursue a ‘beggar thy neighbor’ policy. That was bang on."

The very next day, in the United States, Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, "said exactly the opposite. It wasn’t even 24 hours later. We’re pretty frustrated about it," said the CCA executive.

In particular, Canadian cattlemen are upset that in the letter Vilsack finally issued detailing USDA’s country-of-origin labeling policy for meat, which will take effect March 16, the Secretary said the labels must show where the animals were raised, fed and processed. "That means no commingling," said Masswhol. "It effectively takes away anything that was positive for us in the final rule. It’s even worse than the situation we’ve been in so far."

Moreover, Vilsack said that even though COOL will be voluntary for the time being, USDA will audit compliance, and if the Department is unhappy with the results of the audit then COOL will become mandatory. "Even if it remains voluntary, what will companies do? The problem is that there’s always going to be the threat that it will become mandatory. If it’s voluntary it hurts us and if it’s mandatory it hurts us," complained Masswhol.

This week, Masshol and other CCA executives along with colleagues from other sectors of Canada’s livestock industry met with government agriculture ministers to encourage them to reopen a World Trade Organization case against the U.S. "We went back to our government and said, ‘We’re not happy with this.’ We don’t have a lot of faith the Secretary is going to change his mind, so we want to look at all our options."

He told he’s mystified by Vilsack’s COOL plan, which appears to be exactly opposite the promises made by Obama in Ottawa last week. "Did the Agriculture Secretary discuss this with the White House? I don’t know." He said that the COOL situation may not have been discussed by Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in their meetings, "but it was definitely discussed by the other lower officials who were meeting in Ottawa. The U.S. people know we’re upset about this."

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