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U.S. bides time on meat labels

Top envoy says too soon to know next moves on country of origin

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The U.S. ambassador to Canada says it's too soon to say if the U.S government will reconsider proposed changes to its controversial meat-labelling laws.

Canada and Mexico challenged the validity of its mandatory country-of-origin labelling laws with the World Trade Organization, and earlier this year a WTO panel ruled in their favour. It gave the U.S. government until May 23 to bring the regulations in line with international trade laws.

However, Canadian livestock industry officials claim the changes unveiled last month make the situation worse, not better. They say further revisions are needed and want the Canadian government to take retaliatory action if the U.S. doesn't comply.

David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in an interview Friday Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger raised the issue during a meeting earlier in the day in Winnipeg.

"The premier... raised concerns about the draft regulations, and they are concerns I've heard from others," Jacobson said.

But he said it's too soon to say if the U.S. government is willing to make changes to the draft regulations. He said the government is still collecting public feedback on the issue and won't make a decision until that consultation process is completed. He didn't say how long that's expected to take.

"We'll just have to see how it plays out," he added.

He said the U.S. government fully intends to comply with the WTO order. But he conceded there are differing interpretations about "what that (complying) means."

The mandatory country-of-origin-labelling regulations, which came into effect in 2008 and are known as mCOOL, require beef, pork and other meats sold in U.S. retail stores to be labelled with the country where the animal was born. That means U.S. feedlots and hog operations that buy cattle or pigs from another country, including Canada, and the meat packers who process them, must keep it separate from U.S.-born livestock.

That has created additional costs for U.S. processors, and many have either stopped buying imported livestock or have insisted on paying less for it to offset their higher costs.

The Manitoba Pork Council has said that since the mCOOL laws came into effect, Manitoba exports of weanling pigs to the United States have plummeted to just over three million from 5.5 million animals, and exports of live slaughter hogs have plunged to 400,000 from 1.2 million.

And although cattle exports haven't dropped that much, Manitoba producers say they've been getting $25 to $40 a head less for their animals, or about $150 million a year.

Jacobson said mCOOL was one of a number of issues he discussed with Selinger during his stopover in the city. Flood control and environmental and energy issues were some of the others.

He said he also had a chance to tour the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is under construction at The Forks. And he was blown away by what he saw.

Jacobson said he's has a long-standing interest in architecture, "and this is one of the greatest spaces I have ever seen. The inside (of the building) is unbelievable."

He said there are only a couple of things in the world that are guaranteed to exceed expectations, one of them being Disney World. And he's now added the CMHC to that list.

This will be Jacobson's last year as the U.S.'s top envoy to Canada. He said one the most memorable achievements in his more than 31/2 years in the post was helping to bring about the 2011 enactment of the Beyond the Border agreement between Canada and the United States.

The goal of the agreement is to enhance border security and accelerate the flow of people, goods and services between the two countries.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 B5

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