Country-of-origin labelling — a.k.a. COOL — isn’t cool for Alberta’s beef producers.
“We’re an exporting industry, and trade issues like country-of-origin labelling are probably our top priority,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.
“In terms of the negative impact of COOL, it continues to have an impact of close to $1 billion a year in our industry.”
In 2002, the U.S. implemented mandatory country-of-origin labelling for various Canadian commodities, including beef and pork.
The World Trade Organization has ruled four times in four years that COOL discriminates against Canadian beef and pork, but the battle isn’t won yet, said Smith.
“We think we’re really close to being able to resolve the issue, but certainly, the United States will be looking for signs of a weakening resolve in Canada,” he said.
“We need to be sure the new government maintains the commitment that Canada’s made to impose retaliatory tariffs if the United States doesn’t fix COOL.”
Any sign of weakening will “reduce pressure on the United States,” said Smith.
“If we’re not able to get COOL resolved and bring back the balance in the market forces in our industry, it’s going to have a negative impact on us,” he said. “We just can’t afford to be leaving that money on the table.”
And anything that reduces the economic benefits of producing cattle could further delay the expansion of Canada’s cattle herd.
“We think that, given the prices of the last couple of years, producers are starting to look toward moving ahead with that expansion,” said Smith.
“If we can get some of these issues resolved in terms of trade, that will encourage expansion, but if they’re not resolved, that would tend to delay expansion.”
And herd expansion needs to take place soon.
“We need to be expanding our herd soon or we start to place some of our feeding and processing infrastructure at risk,” said Smith.
“The cattle feeders and the processors depend on a supply of cattle, and if cattle are in limited supply and we don’t start moving forward with expanding our herd, it puts pressure on those businesses.”
By resolving COOL and gaining greater U.S. market access, the Canadian government will “send another signal to producers that they should be expanding their herd.”
But the new federal government needs to stand firm and impose retaliatory tariffs if Washington doesn’t fix or scrap COOL.
“The current government has made a strong commitment to that, and we would want whoever wins the election to maintain that commitment.”