Billings, Mont. -- The Canadian government is seeking a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process over the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. A WTO panel is scheduled to hear the request at the Oct. 23, 2009, meeting of WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.
A joint statement issued today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) indicates that both departments agree that the U.S. COOL law provides information to consumers in a manner that is consistent with WTO commitments, and also that countries have recognized COOL as a legitimate policy long before the WTO ever existed.
"We are pleased that both USDA and USTR are taking a strong stand to defend our constitutional right to pass and implement the U.S. COOL law that provides U.S. consumers with important information regarding where their food is grown and produced," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "We urge both departments to take deliberate and decisive steps to quash Canada's attempt to interfere with the United States' sovereign right to inform U.S. consumers about the origins of the food they purchase for themselves and their families.
"We believe the complaints by Canada against the U.S. COOL law are baseless," he continued. "Unfortunately, this WTO dispute procedure grants Canada an overly simplified forum to retaliate against U.S. citizens' exercise of their constitutional rights.
"This action by Canada should give considerable pause to those elected officials who have unwittingly transferred our sovereign right of self-government to an international tribunal," Bullard pointed out. "We are now in the unenviable position of awaiting a decision from the WTO to determine if our right to self government is absolute, or if we must kowtow to a higher, international power that no U.S. citizen has ever voted for. This attack by Canada strikes at the heart of American sovereignty."
It is important to note that:
1) The U.S. COOL law imposes no duty or restrictions on any foreign government, nor imposes any limits on the volume or type of commodities that a foreign country may export to the United States.
2) Foreign countries are not obligated, in any way, to export to the U.S. any of the commodities subject to the U.S. COOL law -- hence, a foreign country's decision to market its products in the U.S. market and under the rules of the U.S. market is purely voluntary.
And, 3) COOL jurisdiction is exclusively limited to U.S. retailers, as defined exclusively by U.S. law, and subjects all covered commodities marketed by U.S. retailers to identical information requirements, regardless of where the commodities originate.
"Thus, our domestic COOL law does not affect international trade agreements, and it is fundamentally inappropriate for the WTO to even entertain a foreign country's complaint against our domestic COOL law," Bullard emphasized.
"COOL enables consumers to freely choose between food products of various origins," he concluded. "Consumers' choices will influence the market demand for products from any given country. This is how a competitive market is supposed to work, and neither Canada nor the WTO has any right to take that competitive market away from U.S. consumers."
To view/download R-CALFUSA's June 1, 2009, presentation to USTR on these matters, please visit this link: http://www.r-calfusa.com/Trade/090601-PresentationToUSTR.pdf.
Also, to view/download a complete version of R-CALFUSA's formal comments to USTR filed on July 1, 2009, please go to: