The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reportedly established a compliance panel at the request of Canada and Mexico in an ongoing dispute over the U.S. country-of-origin (COOL) meat labeling rules. Canada’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz applauded the WTO action, saying that the United States must “respect its international trade obligations and put an end to mandatory Country of Origin labeling.”  

Canada argues that recent changes to the COOL implementing regulations did not bring them into conformity with WTO obligations. Because the compliance panel consists of the original members who found that the U.S. law was unfair to foreign meat producers, the Canadian officials suggest that the process will be accelerated. If the challenge succeeds, “which may include an appeal to the WTO Appellate Body, Canada could seek authorization from the WTO to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports.”  

Meanwhile, meat and livestock organizations that have appealed a federal court’s denial of their preliminary injunction seeking to block implementation of the amended COOL regulations have written to U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman requesting that the rule not be enforced pending the outcome of the WTO proceedings. In their September 23, 2013, letter, they contend that the fate of the amended rules is uncertain and that a delay will “eliminate imposing the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in costs that [the Agricultural Marketing Service] calculated would be incurred by the supply chain to comply with a rule that may eventually be scrapped in a relatively short timeframe.” More information about the lawsuit and WTO dispute settlement process appears in Issue 495 of this Update. See Law360, September 27, 2013;, October 2, 2013.