VANCOUVER – Ottawa is warning it may impose tariffs on everything from orange juice to bread if the United States doesn’t change a meat-labelling policy that Canadian beef and pork industries say is costing them more than $1 billion a year.
The federal government has released a long list of agriculture and other products that could be affected by Canada’s retaliation in an ongoing dispute over U.S. country-of-origin, meat-labelling rules.
Canada’s list includes U.S. cattle, pigs, beef, pork, cheese, pasta, some fruits and vegetables, chocolate and maple syrup. There are also some non-food items such as office furniture, mattresses and some types of jewelry.
“Free and unfettered trade is a two-way street,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said at a news conference Friday. “These retaliatory measures, should we be forced to bring them into effect, will affect our producers and consumers on both sides of the border.
“It is by no means our preferred course of action, but we will continue to stand with Canadian hog and cattle producers against mandatory country-of-origin labelling.”
Ritz said if Canada follows through with the retaliatory measures, it would cost the U.S. money and jobs.
He acknowledged such tariffs could also mean that Canadian consumers would have to pay more for the products.
“There is a possibility of that,” he said. “We are hoping that this will bring enough pressure to the Americans to make the change before this ever has to be implemented.”
Ritz called on the U.S. to respect a World Trade Organization ruling on meat labelling, which found the American system discriminates against foreign livestock.
He said Canada must get authorization from the WTO before it may retaliate against the U.S. The earliest that such tariffs could be imposed would be between 18 and 24 months.
The U.S. labelling policy, first implemented in 2008, cut Canadian cattle shipments to the U.S. by 50 per cent within a year and cut the export of slaughter hogs by 58 per cent.
The system increases costs and makes it more difficult for U.S. companies to buy Canadian products.
The U.S. recently announced it wants to make the rules even more onerous, requiring more detail on meat labels on the origins of beef, pork and chicken sold in American grocery stores.
Labels would include such information as “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States” for American meat. Cuts of meat from other countries could carry labels such as “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”
Producer groups in Canada praised the federal government for turning up the heat on Washington over the trade dispute.
Dave Solverson, vice-president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association, said it is unfortunate that Ottawa has to take this step, but added that producers have been suffering under this U.S. policy for too long.
“Country-of-origin labelling discrimination has cost our cattle producers around $640 million in losses per year since being implemented in late 2008,” said Solverson, who ranches near Camrose, Alta.
“Those costs are set to rise under the new amendment to an estimated $90 to $100 per head compared with the $25 to $40 per head hit we currently take.”
Jurgen Preugschas of the Canada Pork Council, the organization that represents hog producers, also welcomed the threat of tariffs.
He said the industry is being damaged by the U.S. policy.
“We commissioned an analysis that shows the COOL (country-of-origin labelling) impact on the Canadian hog sector from lost exports alone is $500 million annually.”