TORONTO — Canada warned Friday that it may impose tariffs on everything from orange juice to bread if the United States doesn’t change a meat-labeling policy that Canadian beef and pork industries say is costing them about $1 billion a year.
The federal government on Friday 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-labeling rules. The regulations require tracking beef, chicken and hogs from livestock through the meat processing and distribution systems, which Canada says is unduly burdensome and costly.
Canada’s potential retaliation 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.
“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 labeling.”
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.
“We are hoping that this will bring enough pressure to the Americans to make the change before this ever has to be implemented.”
In 2009, the U.S. issued a requirement that retail outlets put country of origin labels on meat and other products in an effort to give U.S. consumers more information about their food.
The rule, which increases costs and makes it more difficult for U.S. companies to buy Canadian products, led to lower U.S. imports of livestock from Canada. Canadian cattle shipments to the U.S. were cut by 50 percent within a year, as was the export of slaughter hogs by 58 percent, according to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada department.
The Canadian Pork Council estimates the labeling rule has already cost Canada about CA$1 billion ($979 million) annually in beef and pork exports.
The WTO said last year that the 2009 U.S country of origin rule discriminated against livestock from Canada and Mexico.
Ritz called on the U.S. to respect a World Trade Organization ruling on meat labeling, adding that Canada must get authorization from the WTO before it can retaliate against the U.S. That could take between 18 to 24 months.
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.”