Sask. cautiously hopeful U.S. meat labelling law will be repealed

U.S. lawmakers are working on text for country-of-origin labelling bill

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s agriculture minister says he believes there’s a 50-50 chance the United States will repeal labelling laws that have complicated Canadian meat exports.

U.S. lawmakers are working on the text of an omnibus bill on government spending that could change country-of-origin labelling, known as COOL.

“I don’t think we can fool around,” Lyle Stewart said Monday in Regina. “This is the last chance that we’ll have to see COOL repealed for some time and, realistically, probably the next chance won’t come until after the next presidential election in the United States.”

U.S. rules on country-of-origin labels were introduced in 2002 and have been enforced since 2008.

Proponents says it’s a fair way of letting consumers know where their food comes from.

Opponents say it’s disguised protectionism and irrelevant to food safety because there are already inspections. Some U.S. companies have said they can’t afford to sort, label and store meat from Canada differently than meat from domestic animals.

The meat-labelling law is blamed for reducing Canadian cross-border meat exports by half. Stewart estimates it costs the western Canadian beef industry $1 billion a year.

Last week, the World Trade Organization sided with Canada and Mexico in the dispute, opening the door to the imminent imposition of tariffs on American goods including meat, wine and frozen orange juice.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he’s prepared to impose tariffs on American goods if the meat-labelling law isn’t repealed.

A U.S. lawyer who lobbys on behalf of Saskatchewan and Alberta in Washington says he’s cautiously hopeful.

“We are optimistic that that message of full repeal is the only way to actually step back from retaliatory measures. But we don’t know with absolute certainty that that message translates into the actual text that will make that happen,” Tom Sullivan with the firm Nelson Mullins said in a call from Washington.

Stewart said Saskatchewan will encourage Ottawa to take retaliatory actions immediately if COOL isn’t repealed.

“It’s not a choice that any of us takes lightly,” said Stewart.

“This is probably the greatest trading relationship in the world. The U.S. is our largest trading partner and we’re theirs, and trade retaliation is a last resort. But don’t forget we’ve been fighting this fight for eight years and the World Trade Organization has ruled the U.S. to be in non-compliance with the rules four times.”

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