Cool it already

You may have heard that we have a new trade agreement with our northern and southern neighbors. It’ll take time to get used to the new name, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA, for short).

It’ll take even longer to actually enact it. Congressional leaders have indicated it will be dealt with next year.

Given that President Donald Trump has campaigned on and continually bashed the North American Free Trade Agreement, I’m not surprised that he completely changed the name (despite it not being all that different from the NAFTA pact). I’m curious how the debate over who should be listed first in the new name went down, but I’m not at all surprised the United States came out on top.

USMCA reminds me of the Village People’s famous song “Y-M-C-A.” You’re singing it in your head, right? I digress.

The agriculture portions of USMCA are not vastly different from NAFTA. One portion missing from the trade deal has a few cattle ranchers in a tizzy.

Remember the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling law that is no more? Known as COOL, the beef and pork labeling scheme required supermarkets to provide information about where the livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. The U.S. gave its best shot at implementing COOL in a manner that is trade compliant, but it failed time and time again. I’ll note that nothing stops packers from voluntarily putting such labels on products in the meat case. The key word here: voluntary.

The COOL law was repealed by Congress in 2015. The World Trade Organization ruled on four occasions that it violated U.S. trade commitments with Canada and Mexico. The repeal of the COOL law saved American taxpayers a billion dollars in retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico. Those tariffs would have been slapped on a variety of everyday items (not just beef and pork), similar to the tariffs we’re seeing now from foreign countries.

Still, there is a cattle ranching group that has not given up the fight, continually pressing for COOL to be reenacted. Members are upset with President Trump for not putting COOL into the newly negotiated USMCA. Their leader has even said that the president can still be convinced of doing so.

Opponents of COOL say it did not increase demand for U.S. beef, generate more income for ranchers or address food safety

This week, the Trump Administration announced it will begin negotiations for free trade agreements with Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.