The Produce Marketing Association has joined with more than 100 other business and food groups in the U.S. to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to rescind portions of the country of origin labeling requirements to avoid retaliatory tariffs threatened by Canada.

Richard Owen, PMA’s vice president of global business development, said the association signed the letter spearheaded by the COOL Reform Coalition after the World Trade Organization ruled that the portions of the U.S. law related to muscle cuts of meat violate global trade rules.

Other groups signing the letter include:

 

  • California Cherry Export Association;
  • California Pear Growers Association;
  • California Table Grape Commission;
  • National Grocers Association; and
  • Northwest Horticultural Council.

Canada and Mexico filed complaints with the WTO about the COOL law and the U.S. revised it. However, some international officials said the revisions were worst than the original version.

In July 2013 Canada issued a list of commodities likely to be targeted with tariffs and reaffirmed that list after the Oct. 20 ruling by WTO. Mexico had not issued a list of products targeted for tariffs as of Oct. 31, Owen said.

Fresh apples and sweet cherries are on the only fresh produce commodities on the Canadian list, Owen said. However, certain kinds of processed potatoes and some processed tomato products including ketchup are also targeted, according to the COOL Reform Coalition website.

“There is a window of opportunity for the (U.S.) administration to take action,” Owen said Oct. 31, adding that most people in Washington D.C. will be focused on the mid-term election for a while, however. If the U.S. repeals the COOL requirements within 60 days the Canadian government will likely not take retaliatory action, he said.

“The potential impact varies widely among commodities and regions,” Owen said. “But apple and cherry growers near the border have a reason to be worried.”

The problem cited by the WTO is that the U.S. regulation results in domestic meats being treated more favorably than imports.

The U.S. rule “has a detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported Canadian livestock, and thus accords less favorable treatment within the meaning of the (relevant section of global trade rules),” the WTO panel said in a 206-page report. The same is true for Mexico, it said.

Canada’s trade and agriculture ministers, Ed Fast and Gerry Ritz, described the U.S. COOL rule as “blatantly protectionist.” According to a written statement from them, Canada will monitor the situation closely and fully assert its rights, “including seeking authorization to implement retaliatory measures on U.S. agricultural and non-agricultural products if and as necessary.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office told the Wall Street Journal that American officials are considering an appeal of the WTO decision.