Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Canada May Resume WTO Complaint Over U.S. Label Rules

(Bloomberg – Alexandre Deslongchamps)

Canada would resume its World Trade Organization complaint against U.S. labeling rules for meat and fresh produce if U.S. President Barack Obama decides to change them, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said today [Tuesday].

The country-of-origin labeling law went into effect on an interim basis on September 30. It requires food sold in the U.S. to carry markers showing where it was produced. Obama has ordered a review of the rules before they become permanent, which had been scheduled for mid-March.

“Should the Obama administration continue on with protectionism, we will then re-ignite our WTO challenge,” Ritz said from Amman, Jordan in a telephone call with reporters.

The U.S. imposed its first country-of-origin labeling rules amid public concern about unsafe imports. Canada launched its original complaint when the rules where announced, but put it on hold after they were changed to Canada’s satisfaction.

Statistics Canada said today the U.S. labeling rules generated uncertainty about demand for Canadian meat that contributed to reducing the country’s cattle herd last year. The cattle and calf herd shrank 5.1% to 13.2 million head from 13.9 million, according to the agency. Canada is the largest foreign supplier of pork and beef to the U.S., government data show.