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Alberta agriculture minister unhappy with pace of U.S. meat labelling talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

CALGARY - Alberta's agriculture minister is getting fed up with the lack of progress in resolving the ongoing dispute over U.S. meat labelling rules.

Verlyn Olson said Washington's country of origin labelling (COOL) policy is hurting Canadian cattle and hog producers, and if the Americans don't change the rules, it may soon be time for Canada to retaliate.

"This issue has been dragging on for a number of years now and we are at the point if we cannot get a resolution to this then we have to be considering what the future holds," Olson said Thursday.

He noted the federal government has already released a list of possible trade retaliatory measures if the rules aren't changed to Canada's satisfaction.

"That would involve a number of tariffs targeted at U.S. products because after all, Canada is a huge market for American industry as well and something like 38 American states that have Canada as their largest trading partner."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture brought in the meat labelling rules in 2008, saying it would help consumers make informed decisions about food choices.

But the requirement added costs to U.S. buyers of Canadian beef and pork products.

That lead to Canadian cattle shipments to the U.S. being cut in half within a year, and a 58 per cent drop in slaughter hog exports.

The U.S. amended its regulations after the World Trade Organization ruled against Washington. But Canada believes the amendments are even worse.

The dispute will now be reviewed again by the WTO.

Olson said Mexico shares Canada's concerns about the U.S. meat labelling rules.

He said meat labelling was discussed at recent meetings with U.S. officials in Kansas City and Saskatoon, but the dispute remains unresolved.

It's the never ending discussions that worry Olson.

He said producers are continuing to suffer and there is no end in sight.

"We don't even know for sure how long it will take to get that decision from the WTO," he said.

"I've asked that question and have been told it could be 18 months, it could be two years. Meanwhile our industry continues to hurt and that's why we would rather see a resolution of this rather than waiting for court decisions."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130926/alberta-agriculture-minister-unhappy-pace-us-meat-labelling-