Market News & Headlines >> WTO Gives Amended COOL Rules Thumbs Down

Amended U.S. country-of-origin (COOL) meat labeling rules treat imported livestock more unfairly than the original law ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization in 2012, the WTO said on Monday.

The ruling by a WTO compliance panel opens the possibility of retaliatory trade sanctions against U.S. goods by Mexico and Canada.

Back in June, 2012, a WTO panel ruled that the original U.S. COOL requirements unfairly discriminated against Mexico and Canada because they treated beef and pork imported from those countries less favorably than U.S. meat. The United States said in 2013 that it had met a deadline to change its rules, but Canada and Mexico argued it had not done enough, a claim that was at least partially upheld by Monday’s ruling.

Specifically, compliance panel members concluded that the amended COOL law increases the original law’s harmful impact on the competitiveness of imported livestock in the U.S. market, because it necessitates “increased segregation of meat and livestock according to origin and “entails a higher recordkeeping burden,” boosting incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.

The panel also found that the detrimental impact of the amended COOL law does not stem exclusively from “legitimate regulatory distinctions”.

Under a timetable agreed upon by the three countries involved, any of them can appeal the WTO determination within 20 days - an option the U.S. Trade Representative's office told Reuters News Service it was considering. Unless the revised COOL rules are cleared by the WTO's Appellate Body, Mexico and Canada can ask the trade body for the right to impose retaliatory sanctions on a certain amount of U.S. goods.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) on Monday called on Congress and the administration to fix the COOL law, while the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) said it should be completely scrapped.

“The United States must avoid retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” said NPPC President Howard Hill, a veterinarian and pork producer from Cambridge, Iowa. “Retaliatory tariffs on pork would be financially devastating to U.S. pork producers.”