Beef, pork labelling fight heads to the WTO

A posse of federal lawyers, cattlemen and pork producers are in Geneva this week to make their case against a U.S. trade rule that has already cost Canada’s beef industry an estimated $300 million and cut live hog exports almost in half.

GENEVA — A posse of federal lawyers, cattlemen and pork producers are in Geneva this week to make their case against a U.S. trade rule that has already cost Canada’s beef industry an estimated $300 million and cut live hog exports almost in half.

The delegation wants the World Trade Organization to strike down Washington’s country-of-origin labelling policy for beef and pork.

John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association says the delegation will present its arguments and then answer questions from the WTO panel.

“A big part of the argument is going to be to demonstrate that there has been an economic disadvantage to marketing Canadian livestock in the United States because of this law,” Masswohl said Monday.

“Part of that disadvantage is that U.S. livestock buyers have paid lower prices for Canadian cattle because they incur additional costs because of this law and there only way to recover those costs is to pay less for Canadian cattle.”

The federal government estimates that cattle producers — mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan — stand to lose an average of $5,195 this year because of country-of-origin labelling and the effect of the strong Canadian dollar.

Jurgen Preugschas, president of the Canadian Pork Council, said before the labelling law was brought in, Canadian producers were exporting about 10 million live hogs to the U.S. each year. He said that number has now to dropped to about 5 million.

The U.S. law currently requires firms to track and notify customers of the origin of meat and other agricultural products at every stage of production, including retail.

The Harper government has called the provisions onerous and has said the law imposes unfair and unnecessary costs on Canadian exports, reducing their competitiveness.

Mexico is also challenging the policy in Geneva this week and a delegation from the U.S. government will be on hand to defend it.

The WTO isn’t expected to issue its ruling until next July, and that ruling will almost certainly be appealed.