By former USDA Secretary John R. Block
The World Trade Organization ruled this week that Canada and Mexico can impose retaliatory tariffs on our exports to their countries to the tune of more than 1 billion dollars per year. This is serious. It can cost pork producers, cattlemen, and our whole ag industry a lot of money. Pork prices are so low now that hog farmers are losing money on every pig sold.
Let’s look at a little bit of history. Back in 2002, Congress wrote in that farm bill the requirement that any meat processed and sold in the U.S. must detail everywhere that meat animal had been from birth to processing. That is the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL) and it can be a very costly process to keep track of every animal. Meat animals are moved back and forth across the U.S. and Canadian border all the time. Same with Mexico.
I opposed that legislation back in 2002 when it was included as part of the farm bill. Canada and Mexico have been fighting this requirement now for 13 years. They took their case to the World Trade Organization. We are all members of that organization and are obligated to respect and obey the trade rules. WTO says our COOL law violates our international trade obligations. It is as simple as that.
In June of this year, the House voted overwhelmingly 300 to 131 to repeal the law. But the Senate has not been able to act. Maybe now with a 1 billion dollar tariff on our exports due to be imposed yet this month, they will act.
Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts wants immediate repeal. He said, “How much longer are we going to keep pretending retaliation isn’t happening? Does it happen when a cattle rancher or even a furniture maker is forced out of business?” Senate Ag Committee Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow has argued that the consumer has the right to know where the meat has been. She has been pushing for a voluntary labeling program which, by the way, Canada and Mexico have rejected.
Pressure is building for action and hopefully Congress will repeal COOL. Even Senator Stabenow has said that she “would not allow retaliation to take effect.”
It is time to put the pressure on the Senate to get it done.
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit johnblockreports.com.