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Appellate Body Affirms American Consumers' Rights to Information About Groceries

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued the following statement in response to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body’s ruling today in the country of origin labeling (COOL) dispute between the United States and Canada and Mexico:

“We are pleased with today’s ruling, which affirmed the United States’ right to adopt labeling requirements that provide information to American consumers about the meat they buy,” said Ambassador Kirk. “The Appellate Body’s ruling confirms that families can still receive information on the origin of their meat and other food products when they shop for groceries. The Obama Administration remains committed to ensuring that information on the origin of all food products covered by COOL is available to American families so they can make informed purchasing decisions.

“We are also pleased that the Appellate Body overturned the initial finding that COOL is more trade restrictive than necessary to provide consumers with valuable information on the food they buy,” Ambassador Kirk added. “In doing so, the Appellate Body agreed with the United States and declined to accept any of the alternatives that Canada and Mexico claimed we should have used instead.”

While overturning some of the Panel’s key findings against the United States, however, the Appellate Body continued to find fault with certain aspects of COOL’s design. Due to COOL’s recordkeeping and verification requirements, it upheld the Panel’s finding that COOL provides less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs than American livestock.

Canada and Mexico initiated this dispute against the United States in December 2008. Among other claims, Canada and Mexico alleged that the COOL statute and COOL implementing regulations discriminate against their livestock exports to the United States and violated U.S. WTO obligations. Canada and Mexico also alleged that the U.S. COOL requirements were more trade restrictive than necessary. In November 2011, the WTO Panel affirmed that the United States and other WTO Members have the right to adopt country of origin labeling requirements. However, the Panel – among other findings – disagreed with the way the United States designed its requirements.

In March 2012, the United States appealed certain aspects of the panel’s findings while Canada and Mexico filed cross-appeals. The Appellate Body upheld the Panel’s finding that the United States has the right to adopt country of origin labeling requirements. It also overturned the finding that COOL is more trade restrictive than necessary. The Appellate Body declined to make findings on the other conditional and cross-appeals made by Canada and Mexico.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has worked closely with the Office of the United States Trade Representative on this case. We look forward to continuing to work with USDA to ensure that American consumers have relevant information to inform their food purchasing decisions. The next step in the process is for the WTO Dispute Settlement Body to adopt its recommendations and rulings. The United States will then have a reasonable period of time to comply.

For additional background on this case, please visit this link.