In February, I travelled to Washington, D.C. along with Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) staff and Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson. The purpose of the February 2-4 trip was to meet with key leaders in the new U.S. Congress and to encourage them to seek a legislative resolution to the ongoing country-of-origin labelling (COOL) dispute.
I have to say that this was the most encouraging trip to Washington, D.C. that I’ve had with respect to the COOL issue. The awareness of COOL is very high, although there is still much work to do, especially to educate the newly elected members of Congress. I was particularly glad to see them understand the need for resolution by bringing the legislation into compliance with the U.S.’s international trade obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
CCA met with the chairs of the House and the Senate agriculture committees, Senator Pat Roberts and Michael Conaway, respectively, and they understand that COOL has been a burden to both Canadian and American cattle producers. There is a strong desire to repeal the red meat portions of the COOL legislation. Senator Roberts and I had a good dialogue and even took time out of a busy day to discuss cowboy hats and take a few photos. Cowboy hats are hard to travel with (they take a beating during air travel) but they are great icebreakers in places like Washington, D.C.
Of course, there are some new members of Congress who have no knowledge of the COOL issue and CCA took the opportunity to educate them. Several freshman congressmen attended an event at the Canadian Embassy and the CCA was pleased to provide them with some background and explain the potential consequences.
Still, there remain some U.S. lobbyists and legislators who want to continue to discriminate against Canadian and Mexican livestock. For those audiences, it is vital that Minister Ritz and other Canadian politicians continue to tell their U.S. counterparts that Canada will place prohibitively high tariffs on U.S. products, likely as early as this summer, if COOL is not repealed. The minister delivered that message everywhere he went in Washington. In my view the potential for retaliation is what has representatives from all states, even those with an insignificant livestock sector, keenly aware of the COOL issue and the need to get it resolved.
CCA also met with members of the COOL Reform Coalition, which is a collection of companies and organizations representing exporters of the products on Canada’s potential retaliation list. Coalition members understood that the objective is to repeal COOL, but were curious about “Plan B” if the U.S. Congress will not repeal. The CCA’s view is that Plan B is Canada must put tariffs on U.S. exports and keep them in place until Congress eliminates the discrimination against Canadian livestock. Plenty of discussion ensued.
CCA stressed that it is important for U.S. decision makers to understand that once the WTO issues its final ruling this spring that the U.S. has failed to comply with the earlier dispute panel report and authorizes Canada and Mexico to retaliate, the onus will shift to the U.S. to demonstrate that any further changes to COOL are sufficient. In other words, if the U.S. makes a further disingenuous amendment to COOL, Canada and Mexico will not be deterred from retaliating and the U.S. will have to go to the WTO and seek its own ruling while tariffs remain in place. CCA feels that a more logical approach would be for the U.S. to simply repeal the red meat portions of COOL so that Canada and Mexico will voluntarily decide they have no need to impose tariffs on U.S. products.
On February 4, CCA travelled from Washington to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the annual National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Convention. COOL was definitely a topic of conversation as U.S. cattle producers start to appreciate the possibility of a tariff on U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico. Leadership from CCA, NCBA and Mexico’s Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas (CNOG) also met to discuss mutual issues such as COOL. CCA’s relationship with these partners is very strong. CCA staff Dennis Laycraft went on from San Antonio to join International Trade Minister Ed Fast on a trade mission to Korea where Canada’s newly implemented free trade agreement has improved our competitiveness in that important market.
I arrived home just as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a cabinet shuffle which sees new ministers in some important files for the CCA. Minister Jason Kenney was moved to Defence from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), with Pierre Poilievre taking over the reins at ESDC and the labour file.
The CCA will ensure Minister Poilievre is aware how critical an input labour is to Canadian agriculture and beef processing. CCA will continue lobbying for a reliable labour strategy that has several elements including an immigration component.
I will be attending the federal-provincial-territorial ministers’ meeting on the Environment in Ottawa, and intend to discuss issues including the Species at Risk Act, payment for Ecosystem Service Programs and concerns with conservation easements.
At the Alberta Beef Industry Conference, I will take part in a panel discussion on the National Beef Strategy launched last month. The strategy has what I believe to be the roadmap for a successful long-term industry and I encourage you to read more about it at beefstrategy.com.
This article was re-published from the March 2015 issue of Canadian Cattlemen