U.S. Cattlemen's Association Sends Letter to Farm Bill ConfereesWed, 06 Nov 2013 10:18:16 CST
Following opening statements given by U.S. House and Senate farm bill conferees on Wednesday, October 30, the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) sent a letter to conferees on November 4 providing factual information on several points brought up by lawmakers related to U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL). Several conferees, including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), made comments indicating their intention to intervene and legislatively repeal COOL during the farm bill conference process. (Click here to view the letter).
"Unfortunately, COOL opponents consistently use the fear of possible retaliatory actions by our trading partners as a tool to influence policy-makers," noted Jon Wooster, USCA President, San Lucas, California. "We felt it was very important to outline the WTO process for conferees and clear up any confusion opponents have created by misrepresenting the process."
"The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are confident that the COOL revised regulations bring the U.S. into compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling and they have stated that publicly," noted Wooster. "A compliance panel review is underway at the WTO at the request of Canada and Mexico. Thus, the U.S., Canada and Mexico will now have an independent WTO evaluation of the revised regulation's compliance. It is only logical to allow this process to play out."
"If the WTO compliance panel rules that the U.S. regulations are compliant with our trade obligations, no retaliation by our trading partners is allowed by the WTO," continued Wooster. "Under the WTO rules, all parties involved have the right to appeal the compliance panel report to the WTO Appellate Body. Even if the U.S. is found to be non-compliant with our trade obligations regarding COOL and if Canada and/or Mexico choose to impose retaliatory sanctions, the amount of retaliation authorized is subject to arbitration at the WTO. Thus, the notion that retaliatory sanctions could happen overnight and without controls is simply not accurate."
"The WTO process should be allowed to proceed without Congress trying to second-guess the compliance panel and interfering legislatively," said Wooster. "Any legislative action can await the outcome of the current WTO action and can be taken in accordance with existing U.S. statutory procedures."
In April 2013, a nation-wide coalition of 229 farm and ranch, rural, faith, environmental and consumer organizations sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supporting USDA's revisions to COOL regulations. Survey after survey has proven that U.S. consumers generally want more information provided about where their food comes from. Reducing consumer confusion as to the origin of product is an important objective for COOL. "This is an objective that has worked well for most products subject to COOL," noted Wooster. "The revised regulations offer the same opportunity to the meat sector. However, COOL opponents argue that the COOL statute should be changed to allow foreign beef harvested in the U.S. to qualify for the U.S. single-origin label. This is not consistent with the WTO dispute panel ruling and it's certainly not consistent with what consumers have asked for. Opponents of COOL have never really been concerned about our WTO responsibilities; they simply don't want consumers to know where their beef comes from and they want to mix foreign beef with U.S. beef and label it as a product of the U.S. The vast majority of U.S. cattle producers oppose this approach. They're proud of their product and they want to preserve its identity."
USCA is encouraging cattle producers to contact their congressional delegations immediately, urging them to support COOL by rejecting any amendment that would alter COOL and inform farm bill conferees that any action to do so is unwarranted and unnecessary.
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