Advocate urges Trump to put COOL into NAFTA negotiations
SAN DIEGO — President Donald Trump should make re-establishment of country-of-origin labeling for pork and beef part of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, an open markets advocate told a National Farmers Union audience in San Diego on March 8.
“Trump says he is going to renegotiate NAFTA. This is an opportunity to put COOL back into law,” Barry Lynn, a senior fellow at New America, a Washington think tank, told the National Farmers Union’s NATFARMPAC, its political action committee, at a breakfast on the sidelines of the Farmers Union national convention.
Lynn also said that Trump should “do a deal with the Canadians and Mexicans to make sure they do not challenge our rights in the WTO (World Trade Organization) ever again.”
Lynn was referring to the case brought by Mexico and Canada against the U.S. country-of-origin labeling. A WTO panel ruled that the U.S. program resulted in discrimination against Mexican and Canadian producers.
Lynn noted that COOL for red meat “was the law of the land” and maintained that the Obama administration and Congress “caved” in the case, although the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative defended it for several years. If the U.S. had to “pay damages” to maintain COOL, “we should have goddamn well paid it,” he said.
The U.S. should also go to the World Trade Organization and advocate for policy under which Canada and Mexico could “not take away our rights,” Lynn said.
Lynn’s advocacy on COOL won him the only round of applause in a nearly hour-long speech on monopolies.
The NFU was a strong supporter of COOL when it was in force and continues to it support it, but has not taken a position on how it should be re-established, NFU President Roger Johnson said in an interview. Johnson noted that delegates to the convention established policy that the WTO should change its system of considering trade cases to a judicial system.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and other meat industry groups opposed COOL and have discouraged Trump and his staff from bringing up the issue again.
Lynn also called for an end to agricultural checkoffs, calling the checkoffs a “tax” that collects $750 million per year that is used “to fight the independent farmer and rancher.” He noted that Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., had introduced a bill last year to increase transparency and accountability in the checkoff program.
Johnson said NFU has a policy of favoring checkoffs but has reservations about them because of the way some of them mix their research and marketing roles with politics. “State checkoffs tend to be much more supported” by NFU members, Johnson said.
Lynn also said that the Trump administration should finalize the Farmer Fair Practices rule, also known as the GIPSA rule, which is intended to increase fairness for producers in their dealings with meat processors. The Trump administration has slowed down that rule. NFU believes the administration should allow it to go into effect, while meat industry groups have urged the administration to let it die.
In a broader speech to the NFU convention on March 7, Lynn said he believes that a third American revolution is about to take place. Lynn said the first revolution was the one that established the country and the second was the one against “plutocrats” that began early in the 20th century and lasted through the early 1970s. The third revolution, he said, would be against both monopolies in rural areas and cities.
Lynn, an author, highlighted a speech that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gave on the subject at New America in 2016. Trump’s attitudes about monopolies are unclear, Lynn said, because Trump made statements of concern about them during the campaign, but has since appointed executives from Goldman Sachs to high government positions.
Lynn did not mention Bayer’s plan to buy Monsanto, Chem China’s proposed purchase of Syngenta and the Dow-DuPont mergers that are of concern to many farmers and farm groups, including the Farmers Union. ❖
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