A World Trade Organization (WTO) arbitrator has determined that the United States must conform its country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) rules in accordance with an earlier ruling by May 23, 2013, finding that 10 months was a reasonable time for implementation. Additional details about the dispute, which involved a challenge brought by Canada and Mexico over 2008 COOL provisions for beef and pork products, appear in Issue 446 of this Update.

According to a news source, the labeling program has sharply reduced U.S. imports of Canadian pigs and cattle, because it purportedly raised U.S. packers’ costs by requiring them to segregate imported animals from U.S. livestock. COOL supporters contend that such labeling provides consumers with important information about food origins. Canada’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz reportedly said, “We are particularly pleased that the arbitrator determined a reasonable period of time close to that proposed by Canada and Mexico, as opposed to the much longer period suggested by the United States.”

While WTO’s July 2012 ruling allows the United States to continue to require country-of-origin labels, according to U.S. trade officials, the program must be altered to ensure that it does not impermissibly interfere with trade. A spokesperson for the U.S. trade representative said, “The United States remains committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with information about the origin of beef and pork products they buy at the retail level. We intend to bring the COOL requirements into compliance within the period of time established by the arbitrator, and we will continue to work with USDA, Congress, and interested stakeholders in order to do so.” See Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2012.