GENEVA – An arbitrator with the World Trade Organization gave the United States until May 2013 to bring its country of origin meat labeling rules into compliance with an earlier WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) ruling on mandatory COOL.

In his ruling, arbitrator Giorgio Sacerdoti said “...the reasonable period of time for the United States to implement the recommendations and rulings of the DSB in these disputes is 10 months from the date of adoption of the Panel and Appellate Body Reports on 23 July 2012. The reasonable period of time will thus end on 23 May 2013. In reaching this conclusion, I have considered that this period of time should allow the United States to implement the recommendations and rulings of the DSB regardless of whether it decides to do so by regulatory action alone or by legislative action followed by regulatory action.”

Speaking to Reuters, a spokesperson for US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the US remains committed to providing consumers country of origin information about meat and poultry products. However, the COOL requirements would be brought into compliance with the WTO ruling within the timeframe given by the arbitrator.

In a ruling made June 29, the WTO Appellate Body said US mandatory COOL regulations violated trade agreements by giving less favorable treatment to Canadian cattle and hogs compared to domestic livestock. The Appellate body also said that recordkeeping and verification requirements of COOL had a detrimental impact on imported livestock.

Canada's International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz issued a joint statement saying, “Our government has stood firm with our cattle and hog producers against the unfair country-of-origin labeling of the US. The WTO Appellate Body has recognized the integrated nature of the North American supply chain and marked a clear win for our livestock industry.”

“We expect that the US will bring itself into compliance with its WTO obligations by May 2013 as determined by the arbitrator for the benefit of producers on both sides of the border,” the statement continued. “We are particularly pleased that the arbitrator determined a reasonable period of time close to that proposed by Canada and Mexico, as opposed to the much longer period suggested by the United States.”

COOL labels became mandatory in March 2009. US consumer groups and some agriculture groups supported the measure, saying consumers should have information to distinguish foreign from domestic food products. Meat processors opposed COOL on concerns it would raise costs and disrupt trade.

Canada and Mexico leveled the original complaint against COOL in 2008. A dispute resolution panel ruled in November 2011 that the COOL violated WTO rules on technical barriers to trade. The US appealed the panel’s findings in March 2012, but lost the bulk of its appeal in June.