November 16, 2016 / 6:03 PM / in a year

Canadian cattle group urges trade fight if Trump imposes unfair labels

Ground Alberta beef is seen before packaging at Bon Ton Meat Market in Calgary, Alberta, October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Todd Korol

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian cattle producers will urge Ottawa to retaliate against the United States if the incoming Trump administration imposes a meat labeling program it views as discriminatory, restarting a six-year trade battle, an industry group said on Wednesday.

U.S. news network CNN reported on Tuesday that a memo drafted by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, which it obtained, said the new administration would immediately initiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Those changes could include measures on country of origin labeling, CNN reported.

The U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) program required as of 2009 that retail outlets label food according to its origin. Canada and Mexico argued that COOL, repealed in December, led to fewer of their cattle and pigs being slaughtered in the United States.

“We’re watching ... and if we think it discriminates against our cattle, our recommendation is going to be that tariffs go into place immediately” on U.S. products, said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, which represents Canada’s 68,500 beef farms and feedlots.

The World Trade Organization last year authorized Canada to retaliate against the United States over COOL, setting the annual level at C$1.055 billion ($786.78 million). The previous Canadian Conservative government listed in 2013 three dozen U.S. product categories that could be subject to a 100 percent surtax, including pork, beef, cherries, appliance parts, chocolate, wine and office furniture, but none were imposed.

Alex Lawrence, spokesman for Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, would not say if Canada is inclined to retaliate, adding that Ottawa looks forward “to working very closely with the new administration and with the United States Congress, including on trade and investment.”

Until it’s clear how Trump might approach COOL, no action is necessary, Masswohl said.

“I don’t go around chasing ghosts,” Masswohl said. “If anything starts to become real, we’ll know well in advance.”

The Canadian Pork Council, which represents the country’s hog farmers, is taking a wait and see approach until it knows what changes, if any, the next U.S. government will make, said executive director John Ross.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by David Gregorio

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