Ritz confident labelling will end

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is optimistic that country-of-origin labelling (COOL) requirements in the United States will end soon — whether the result of political will, a court order or retaliatory measures.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is optimistic that country-of-origin labelling (COOL) requirements in the United States will end soon — whether the result of political will, a court order or retaliatory measures.

Ritz discussed the contentious issue, which is deterring beef and pork shipments to the U.S., during a visit to Red Deer on Thursday.

He spoke optimistically about the feedback he and Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson received early this week at a North American Meat Association conference in Chicago.

“The vast majority of the meat sector, right through to the retail councils, are on side with being against country-of-origin labelling,” he said.

Initiated by the Americans in 2008, country-of-origin labelling regulations require that meat products sold in the United States indicate what country they came from, and that meat from other countries be packaged separately.

The associated cost is deterring U.S. processors from importing meat.

Late last month, American food processing giant Tyson Foods — the third largest purchaser of Canadian cattle — said it stopped buying slaughter cattle from Canada because of the costs related to COOL requirements.

The World Trade Organization has ruled against COOL requirements, but the Americans responded by amending the regulations and triggering another time-consuming WTO review.

Meanwhile, a U.S. court decision that denied an injunction against the new regulations has been appealed by a group that includes the American Association of Meat Processors, the American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Association and the Southwest Meat Association.

Ritz said many American politicians are also now siding with the anti-COOL camp.

“Since last spring, when that initial ruling came down, they now have letters from roughly 100 senators and congressmen supporting them in moving forward on an appeal.”

Ritz said he’s hopeful the regulations will simply be repealed.

“There’s a growing recognition at the legislative level that this no longer does anything like it was supposed to do,” he said of COOL’s purpose.

But if a political resolution doesn’t occur, the Canadian government will look to other options — including WTO-approved trade sanctions.

Products already identified as candidates for retaliatory tariffs include U.S. cattle, pigs, beef, pork, some fruits and vegetables, and chocolate.

“We’ve let them know in no uncertain terms that there are retaliatory measures that we will take,” said Ritz. “

We’re polite, we’re Canadian, but at the end of the day this is taking over a billion dollars a year out of our livestock industry. We’re not going to stand for that.”

Ritz said the trade dispute illustrates the importance of developing alternative markets, such as Asia and Europe.

“At the end of the day, you want diversity in your stock portfolio; you should have it in your trade portfolio too.

“It (the U.S.) has been a good market because the border didn’t exist. But now, when they thicken the border with things like COOL, we have to look elsewhere.”

The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which has been approved in principle, is expected to boost Canadian beef exports to Europe by $600 million a year and pork sales by $400 million.

“Once this trade agreement is full implemented, our farmers will have virtually tariff-free access to half a billion more customers,” said Ritz.

The minister said he hopes to return to Washington next week to continue to lobby his American counterparts on the COOL issue.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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