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U.S. approves labelling law

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U.S. President Barack Obama passes the new farm bill Friday.

JACQUELYN MARTIN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

U.S. President Barack Obama passes the new farm bill Friday.

WASHINGTON -- Canada got a painful lesson in American politics Friday as one of its major economic priorities was neglected on the messy floor of the legislative sausage-factory that is the U.S. Congress.

Hopes a long-awaited farm bill might address a multibillion-dollar hit to Canadian livestock producers were officially extinguished, as U.S. President Barack Obama attended a ceremony in Michigan where he signed it into law.

"That's the way you should expect Washington to work," Obama said, crediting both parties for putting aside their rancour to deliver a sweeping bill. "That's the way it should continue to work."

In fact, the bill's bumpy journey to the presidential pen is a classic case study in U.S. lawmaking -- that boisterous, unpredictable feast of movable alliances so strikingly different from the routine bill-churning seen in Canada's leader-controlled party system.

In the scramble toward a farm bill, Canadian hopes were buried by a few hostile senators, some pressure on key Democrats, and the anxieties of a Republican leadership eager to tally up some legislative accomplishments in a congressional election year.

Oh, and also, there was yawning indifference. Among the reasons Canadian farmers lost out is not enough lawmakers cared about the cumbersome country-of-origin labelling requirement for meat (COOL) to turn it into a make-or-break negotiating point that threatened to undo a 959-page bill.

It's nothing personal, one of Canada's allies explains.

"To be honest with you, U.S. lawmakers don't care what Canada thinks in this process," said Colin Woodall, who'd pushed for changes to COOL as the vice-president for government affairs of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

"That's just a reality of our political process. This was never seen as a Canadian ask, or a Canadian fix. And there's really not a scenario that would ever change that."

While American lawmakers were drafting the farm bill, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz expressed hope it might end labelling requirements for beef, pork and poultry -- a complex process blamed for reducing meat exports to the U.S. by half since 2008.

The subsequent disappointment has Canada and Mexico now looking to retaliatory tariffs on a range of U.S. goods, with the next step in the process a scheduled hearing on Feb. 18 at the World Trade Organization.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 B10

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