COOLabel_406x250Last week, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) filed a legal brief in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute over mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), arguing that the $3 billion sought by Canada and Mexico in retaliatory tariffs are a dramatic overestimation of damages. The U.S. requested that the WTO Arbitrator reject the amounts requested by Canada and Mexico and set them at no more than $43.22 million and $47.55 million, respectively. The document called the economic methodology used by the two countries “flawed” and one that “severely overestimates the level of nullification or impairment attributable” to COOL. In May, the WTO rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that COOL on meat unfairly discriminates against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products. As a result, the program must be reformed to honor trade relations with Canada and Mexico and to avoid retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. In June, the House of Representatives voted to repeal COOL for beef, pork, and chicken in order to avoid those retaliatory tariffs. After the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the subject, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced a bill in July that would remove certain meats from the mandatory COOL labeling program and institute a voluntary label instead. Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said the brief submitted July 30 “demonstrates that the penalties could — indeed should — be a tiny fraction of the $3 billion penalty used by Congress to justify repealing or weakening COOL before the final penalty is assessed by the WTO.” Hauter added that Congress should wait for the final WTO decision before altering the law. In response to the findings of the USTR, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that the $3 billion claim “was a calculated and deceptive hoax perpetrated on the American people.” The WTO has scheduled an arbitration hearing to consider this matter on Sept. 15-16 in Geneva. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)