Canada would revive a trade complaint against the United States if Washington chose to reinstate country-of-origin meat labeling rules that Ottawa considers protectionist, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said.

“Should the Obama administration continue on with protectionism and country-of-origin labeling, we will then reignite our WTO (World Trade Organization) challenge,” Ritz told reporters on a conference call.

Canada agreed to shelve its WTO complaint last month after the administration of George W. Bush revised US rules to allow greater flexibility on labeling of meat sold in US grocery stores.

Ritz said the complaint remains off the shelf as “the Obama administration goes back and makes sure that the Bush administration didn’t leave any landmines in any of these deals.”

The remarks came two days before President Barack Obama travels to Ottawa for his first foreign visit. Trade issues are expected to be high on the agenda for talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The interim country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules came into effect last Sept. 30 but were revised earlier this year after Canada complained.

Under the revised rules, meat packers and producers will not have to incur the extra cost of segregating Canadian animals in order to comply with labeling requirements. The rules now allow a label showing a mixed origin, for example saying beef was of US and Canadian origin.

“A good percentage of what they call American beef is actually Canadian product, but processed in the States,” said Ritz.

Canada traditionally exports C$4 billion ($3.2 billion) a year in livestock, beef and pork to the United States.

Technically the WTO challenge has not been withdrawn as Canada monitors how the revised rules are applied.
($1=$1.26 Canadian) (Reuters)