* Expects U.S. to follow WTO ruling
* Too soon to consider retaliation on US
* Canada willing to negotiate all issues at TPP
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Jan 17 Canada expects the
United States to make regulatory changes to its country of
origin meat labelling rules in time for a spring deadline from
the World Trade Organization, Canadian Agriculture Minister
Gerry Ritz said on Thursday.
In a wide-ranging interview on agricultural trade, Ritz said
Canada wants the U.S. to pass legislation to change labelling
rules, known as COOL, rather than altering regulations.
But gridlock in Congress meant regulatory change was more
likely, he told Reuters by phone from Edmonton, Alberta. "At the
end of the day, we fully expect them to adhere to the letter and
spirit and ruling from the WTO."
The WTO ruled on June 29 that COOL unfairly discriminates
against Canada and Mexico with rules that say grocers must
signal the country of origin on cuts of beef, pork, lamb,
chicken and ground meat.
The program cut U.S. imports of Canadian pigs and cattle
sharply because it raised costs for U.S. packers who must now
segregate imported animals from U.S. livestock.
Ritz said legislated change looks unlikely before the WTO's
May 23 deadline, but the United States might be able to tweak
regulations governing meat labelling to ensure Canadian animals
aren't treated any differently from American animals.
John Masswohl, director of government and international
relations for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said the
only way the U.S. can comply is by making legislative changes,
since it was within legislation that the WTO found
discrimination against imported livestock.
"A regulatory change will either be insufficient to comply
or will be illegal and risks court action to prevent it,"
Masswohl said. "A U.S. attempt to address the WTO findings via
regulation is a path toward retaliation on U.S. exports (by)
Canada and Mexico."
Canadian hog farmers on Monday said that COOL has cost the
industry $2 billion and counting, and they called for Canada to
impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products if the United States
fails to change its labelling rules by May 23.
"It's early to talk about that," Ritz said. "I've had good,
frank discussions with my counterpart, (U.S. Department of
Agriculture) Secretary Tom Vilsack. They know they have to get
this done. They're moving toward that end."
A spokesperson for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said
on Monday that the USTR is working with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and consulting others, including Congress, to
determine what it will do.
ALL ISSUES ON TABLE AT TPP - RITZ
Ritz said Canada will participate in talks this year on a
free-trade deal for the Asia Pacific region, called the Trans
Pacific Partnership (TPP). Canada is under pressure from
countries like New Zealand to scrap its system that controls
supplies of dairy products, eggs and poultry by restricting how
much farmers can produce and limiting imports.
All issues are on the table for negotiation, Ritz said.
"We don't negotiate these (deals) in public, but at the end
of the day, we'll only sign a deal that's in the best interests
of all Canadian industry."
The "crown jewel" for all countries involved in TPP would be
greater access to Japan, one of several countries looking at
joining the group, Ritz said.
Canada is also eager to see Russian trade restrictions
lifted against imported meat with ractopamine, he said, although
it is not contemplating trade retaliation.
Ritz said Canada will continue to press Japan this year to
accept Canadian beef from cattle under 30 months of age, instead
of the current level of under 21 months.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by
Janet Guttsman and Marguerita Choy)