(Adds background on the trade dispute, comments from U.S.
government and industry officials)
By Rod Nickel
June 7 Canada wants to impose tariffs on U.S.
imports ranging from meat to cherries, rice and potatoes to
retaliate against the United States for what it calls a costly
meat labeling requirement, escalating a 4-year-old dispute.
Canada will ask the World Trade Organization to approve its
retaliatory measures in a process that will take 18 to 24
months, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and
International Trade Minister Ed Fast said on Friday.
Ritz said Mexico would also seek retaliation against the
United States, although its list of products may not match the
Canadian list. The two countries have worked closely together on
addressing concerns about U.S. meat labeling rules.
Mexico's ministries of economy and agriculture did not
immediately provide comment.
The dispute stems from a 2009 U.S. requirement that retail
outlets specify the country of origin on labels on meat and
other products in an effort to give consumers more information
about the safety and origin of their food.
Canada says the labels add costs and have encouraged U.S.
packers to import less Canadian livestock, driving some farmers
going out of business.
If the WTO approves, Canada intends to impose tariffs on
U.S. beef, pork, live hogs and cattle, corn, apples and
cherries, as well as non-food products like wooden office
furniture and mattresses, Ritz said in Vancouver.
Asked if the proposed retaliation was a bit like the
biblical David versus Goliath battle, Ritz said he was not
afraid of taking on the much-larger United States, which is
Canada's biggest trading partner by far.
"If you read your Bible, you'll find David won that fight,"
he said. "We know we're on the side of the angels on this one."
Canada and Mexico complained to the WTO that the COOL
(country-of-origin labeling) rules discriminated against
imported livestock. The trade body ordered the United States to
comply with WTO rules by May 23, but the U.S. Department of
Agriculture made revisions that Canada and Mexico say would only
make the situation worse.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative disagrees.
"As we have said from the outset, USDA's new final rule
brings the United States into (WTO) compliance, and therefore no
retaliation should be authorized," she said.
Bill Bullard, CEO of R-Calf, a U.S. cattle producers group
that supports COOL, said Canada seems to be ignoring those
"This type of boisterous claim really is a lobbying strategy
in which Canada wants to bully the U.S. Congress into including
something in the 2013 Farm Bill that would repeal country of
origin labeling," Bullard said. "That's why the timing is as it
is while the Senate is debating amendments to the Farm Bill."
The Canadian government selected which products to target
with U.S. political adversaries in mind, said John Masswohl,
director of government and international relations for the
Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
"What is it that motivates legislators? Having their
constituents complain to them," Masswohl said. "Some of the
products are targeted very specifically at congressmen and
senators in certain districts."
With U.S. meat processors also opposed to COOL, Masswohl
said he hopes the U.S. will change its rules in a way that
satisfies Canada before any new Canadian tariffs take effect.
Two-way meat and livestock trade between Canada and the
United States is worth more than $5 billion a year.
The last major dispute between the two countries was over
softwood lumber, where the U.S. accused Canadian lumber firms of
setting artificially low prices for wood from trees killed in a
massive insect infestation. An international arbitrator
dismissed a U.S. complaint last year. [ID: nL2E8IIB84]
(Additional reporting by Charles Abbott in Washington and
Theopolis Waters in Des Moines, Iowa; Additional reporting by
David Alire Garcia and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by
Lisa Von Ahn, David Gregorio and Richard Chang)