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Stay COOL: Keep the Country of Origin Labeling Act Intact | Commentary

By Joel D. Joseph Recently, the House of Representatives panicked and caved in to demands from Canada, Mexico and the World Trade Organization gutting the Country of Origin Labeling Act. These are the same members of Congress who want President Barack Obama to “get tough” with Iran and Russia, yet cower when threatened by third-rate powers.  

California has a population greater than Canada. Mexico is a drug cartel operating as a country. Every day we allow substandard Mexican delivery trucks to cross our borders and enter into the United States. With regard to our northern neighbor, we have not complained that Canada has imposed confiscatory duties on American dairy products and chicken.  

We need to get tough; we should take the gloves off and fight Canada and Mexico on unfair trade. We should also expose the World Trade Organization for what it is: an undemocratic, unfair clique of small countries that love to skewer the United States.  

Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the WTO charging that COOL was a barrier to free trade because it required grocery stores to label meat products with their country of origin. Ninety percent of American consumers want to have the country of origin labels on their meats. If mad cow disease is coming from Canada (which it has), consumers and processors should have the right to know where their beef is coming from.  

But what about the real tariff barriers to trade enacted by our northern neighbor? According to Canada’s leading newspaper, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian federal government imposes tariffs that run between 200 per cent and 300 per cent on virtually all dairy and chicken imports including milk, cheese and ice cream. Incredibly, we can’t ship Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or Vermont’s excellent cheddar cheese, milk or butter across the border because it would triple the cost.  

Instead of enacting excessive duties, Mexico has established illegal subsidies on many products. Two major industries affected by this are sugar and steel. The U.S. International Trade Commission recently made a determination (by a 5-0 vote) that imports of dumped and subsidized Mexican sugar are materially injuring U.S. sugar producers. According to the antidumping and countervailing duty petitions filed by the U.S. sugar industry, Mexico has systematically dumped subsidized sugar into the U.S. market costing domestic producers an estimated $1 billion this year alone. In 2014, U.S. Department of Commerce made a determination that rebar steel imports from Mexico were unfairly being dumped into the U.S. market threatening the jobs of American workers.  

At the same time, Obama said that his new Trans Pacific Partnership would not force the United States to change its laws. The President said recently, “critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation — food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations. They’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.” Mr. President, your critics are not making this stuff up; our little trade agreement that created the WTO is doing just that.  

The World Trade Organization sounds like a legitimate international organization, but it is not. The WTO operates in secret by handpicked delegates from around the world. Cases reviewed by the WTO are determined by “judges” selected for one case even if they have demonstrated conflicts of interest. WTO decisions make a mockery of U.S. and European laws that have been designed to protect the health of consumers and the environment. The WTO is unfair, unethical and undemocratic. It needs to be overhauled.  

The United States Senate should keep COOL in force. In fact, the Senate should pass a resolution challenging the validity of the WTO ruling for conflict of interest reasons.  

In the event that the Senate passes a bill that guts COOL (like the House bill) and sends it to the president, the president should veto the bill. As the president said, “No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.” If he is true to his word, the president must veto the COOL amendments.  

Joel D. Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation and worked on the Country of Origin Labeling Act.  

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Topics: guest-observer