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USDA ‘Confident’ About COOL at WTO, Congress May Want a Backup Plan

Members of Congress are feeling antsy about the World Trade Organization decision on country of origin labeling (COOL) expected this summer.

During a House budget hearing on Wednesday, Edward Avalos, the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, responded to questions about the case.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) brought up the recent court decision to allow COOL to continue and asked Avalos what USDA will do about retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada and Mexico if “we lose” in the WTO case.

Avalos said the agency is “confident” that changes to the rule which took effect last year will put the U.S. in compliance with the WTO.

“I think the most appropriate action we can take right now is to leave it in the hands of the WTO and see what they decide,” he said.

Yoder pressed him several more times for plans, but Avalos would only say that the agency would address the decision when it’s made.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave the Senate a similar response last week during a budget hearing with the Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

“Once we see what they say, we will respond and react accordingly,” Vilsack said when asked how USDA will react if the WTO decides against the U.S. on COOL.

“I think a lot of it depends on precisely what the WTO says, and, if they don’t agree that we’ve been in compliance, why, we’re not in compliance,” he explained.

At this week’s hearing in the House, Yoder took Avalos’ answers as a confirmation “that we don’t have a proper response ready to go and we don’t know, really, what our country will do if we’re hit with $2 billion in trade fines.”

Before switching topics, Yoder said, “If the WTO disagrees with you, sir, then we need to be more prepared than I think we are to deal with it, going forward.”

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