The dispute over country of origin labeling that has been working its way through the World Trade Organization, takes a significant step forward the week of April 30. And those hearings will be in public.
Both the United States and Canada have requested that the Appellate Body Division hearing be open to public observation, and the Geneva, Switzerland group will make that happen.
It's uncommon for these hearing to be held in public. Early in this process, the dispute settlement meetings were also opened to the public at the request of both parties. But the Appellate Body Division doesn't open its meetings to public view.
The oral hearing is to take place May 2 and 3. Those on hand will view the hearing by closed-circuit television in a room near the hearing room. And apparently seating is limited.
The dispute, brought by Canada, challenges COOL as being trade restrictive. Mandatory labeling was first included in the 2008 Farm Bill, but its implementation has been challenged from the start. Today, the labeling standard is in place, but remains contentious from a trade perspective.
The move toward COOL came in light of the 2003 discovery of a cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The animal, originally from Canada, created significant trade issues for the United States. Before that discovery, there had been interest in labeling meat for its origin, but the industry had battled against the idea.
The WTO dispute has been going on for more than two years, not uncommon for disputes for the global trade group.