LAST week, parties in the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) dispute had the opportunity to present their arguments to a World Trade Organization panel that will decide whether the revised COOL rule brings the U.S. into compliance with its world trade commitments.
The Feb. 18-19 hearing provided the U.S., Canada and Mexico with an opportunity to make oral arguments before the compliance panel in Geneva, Switzerland, following up on the submission of written briefs that took place throughout the fall.
The panel is comprised of the same three panelists whose finding that COOL discriminated against Canadian live cattle and hogs was affirmed by the WTO Appellate Body in 2012.
The parties will now have the chance to answer follow-up questions and provide additional comments to the panel.
The panel chairman said the panel expects to circulate its final report to the parties by July 22. In the past, these deadlines have sometimes been extended as needed.
After the final report is circulated to the parties, either side will have the right to appeal to the Appellate Body if they disagree with any aspect of the results. Under the terms agreed to by the U.S. and Canada, such an appeal could take as little as five months from issuance of the panel report to adoption of the Appellate Body report, although these deadlines have also sometimes been extended.
"If this process must continue fully to its conclusion, Canada could be authorized to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports sometime in the first half of 2015," provided WTO rules in favor of Canada and Mexico, the Canadian Cattlemen's Assn. (CCA) said in a statement.
The government of Canada has already published a list of possible U.S. goods that could be targeted for retaliatory tariffs. That list includes beef, pork, cereals, baked goods, fresh fruit and many other items produced in areas represented by lawmakers who opposed placing a resolution to COOL in the farm bill.
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson said NFU believes the revised COOL rule fully complies with WTO rules.
"We appreciate the vigorous defense the U.S. delegation mounted at the WTO in support of COOL," he said.
"At this point, we have no indication how the panel will rule on Canada and Mexico's compliance claims," Johnson added. "We were pleased to learn that the panel appears deeply engaged in the dispute, asked thoughtful and careful questions of all sides and gave third parties a meaningful opportunity to participate."
NFU continues to claim that "COOL is an important consumer information measure that has been repeatedly supported by Congress, consumer groups and American ranchers and farmers."
CCA reported that the amended COOL regulation in effect has so far already more than doubled its negative impact to more than $100 per head.
"COOL discrimination has already cost Canadian cattle producers over $3 billion since 2008 and has created negative impacts that have shuttered U.S. plants and resulted in job losses in the processing sector," CCA added.
There is no news to report on the legislative front for addressing COOL, so for now, the industry waits again for the final WTO ruling and appeal process to play out.