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Federal agriculture minister expects WTO ruling on meat labelling this summer

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CALGARY - Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz expects the next ruling in the long, drawn-out dispute over meat-labelling requirements imposed by the United States to come later this summer.

Ritz told reporters in Calgary that the World Trade Organization has heard from all of the prospective complainants as well as the U.S. government. He said a public ruling is expected late this summer.

"We're buoyed by what they have said to our adjudication saying we have actually proven our case so we'll wait and see what the final ruling looks like," he said Tuesday.

Ritz says country-of-origin labelling, also known as COOL, is costing the North American meat industry billions of dollars. He said the threat of retaliation remains very real.

"There's growing push-back in the U.S. from retail on a lot of other commodities in our retaliatory list. They don't want to go there," Ritz said.

"We don't want to go there either but I'm here to tell them we will come down with both feet if the U.S. administration does not see the light and change that."

U.S. rules on country-of-origin labels, introduced in 2002 and enforced since 2008, are blamed for reducing Canadian cross-border meat exports by half.

Some U.S. companies have said they can't afford to sort, label and store meat from Canada differently than meat from domestic animals. Industry groups argue the information is of no real value to the consumer. Opponents also say the rules violate free-trade agreements.

However, the provisions are supported by some border-area ranchers who compete with Canadians and Mexicans, and by their allies in Congress.

Ritz encouraged his Mexican counterparts to come up with their own retaliatory measures in a meeting in May.

He doesn't see the retaliatory list as an empty threat.

"This is not a fast process but it's the only one available to us. U.S. industry, Canadian industry, Mexican industry continue to fight in the court system. We haven't had a clear cut win but we haven't lost either," he said.

"The process is what it is. We will continue to fight in it but letting the U.S. know what the retaliatory measures are is a good step."

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