U.S. encouraged to wait on COOL appeal

Vilsack also said he's trying to examine ways it can work within confines Congress provided agency in making a COOL fix.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the World Trade Organization (WTO) has advised the U.S. to wait until January if it chooses to appeal the recent country-of-origin labeling rule that found the United States’ law is trade distorting and ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico.

Vilsack shared in a press conference that although the final decision on whether or not to appeal lies with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, the United States has been advised by the WTO body that’s in charge of appeals that if there was to be an appeal from the U.S., WTO encouraged the U.S. to “wait until January because of a backlog of other pressing business that they have that would allow them to sort of focus and work on this in an appropriate manner,” Vilsack said.

While there is an opportunity for the United States to appeal this decision, final adjudication should occur early 2015. At that time, if the Compliance Panel’s original findings are found to be valid, both Canada and Mexico could subject an array of U.S. exports to retaliatory tariffs. A finding of non-compliance would surely result in serious economic harm to U.S. firms and farmers that export to our neighbors, according to the COOL Reform Coalition which consists of agriculture and manufacturing groups who are seeking U.S. abide by the trade standards.

Vilsack said there also have been no active conversations with the Canadians. Ed Fast, Canadian minister of international trade, and Gerry Ritz, Canadian minister of agriculture, said in a statement following the ruling, “Canada is deeply disappointed that the U.S. has so far been unwilling to make the changes required to respect their trade obligations.”

Canada called upon the U.S. to enact legislative change to eliminate COOL’s discriminatory treatment against Canadian hogs and cattle. In a letter Thursday by the COOL Reform Coalition signed by 109 organizations, members of Congress were asked to immediately authorize and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to rescind elements of COOL that have been determined to be noncompliant with international trade obligations by a final WTO adjudication.

Vilsack said he continues to press his team at USDA to see if there’s a way to work within the confines of the statute that Congress has passed and still create a scenario in which – consistent with the statutory directive – to walk the fine line that the WTO has established in their rulings, “indicating that we are able to label, but we can’t compel a discriminatory segregation of livestock.”

He added he didn’t know if that’s going to be possible, but USDA is making every effort to try to comply with its responsibilities.

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