U.S. and Canadian regulations for pork and beef are complementary in national grading standards, inspection services, re-inspection services at ports-of-entry, national identification systems, and the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in livestock.  The analysis does not propose that the laws of the two countries be unified because that would be unacceptable to both sovereign national governments.  That approach has been generally rejected in most trade harmonization efforts globally.  What is proposed is a mixture of harmonization of rules and mutual recognition of processes with similar outcomes, along with a bi-national ‘Red Meat Committee’ under the Regulatory Cooperation Council created recently by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper.

Both countries have the same approach to yield grades and quality; Canada has three yield grades while the U.S. has five.  Quality grades measure tenderness, juiciness and flavor.  In 1996 Canada formally adopted the copyrighted U.S. marbling standards.  For inspection services, both countries recognize each system as practically equivalent.  Canada will need to do more annual plants inspections to match the U.S. effort.  Canadian meat is inspected at the point of entry by the U.S. even though Canadian inspection is considered equivalent.   President Obama and Prime Minister Harper have already agreed to a pilot bi-national inspection team starting this month that could lead to ending border inspections.

Canada has a mandatory national livestock identification system for hogs and cattle.  The U.S. system only covers animals that are traded in interstate commerce under state government operated identification systems that meet minimum federal standards.  The solution suggested is mutual recognition and national treatment.  The U.S. would benefit from the better traceability of the Canadian system that reduces the risk of transmitting animal diseases to the U.S.  The two countries have similar policies on use of hormones in beef, except for the U.S. allowing the use of rBST to improve milk production in dairy cows.  Both employ regulations to minimize antibiotic use and ensure no or minimal residue after slaughter.

The bi-national ‘Red Meat Committee’ would keep the process moving forward and resolve problems as they arise.  Harmonization would not be easy, but doable given the existing commonalities in the two systems.  With $2.8 billion of animals and meat moving south in 2011and $1.3 billion moving north, producers and consumers in both countries have much to gain from a more efficient supply chain.

Efforts at harmonization and mutual recognition of regulations have become popular globally in recent months to overcome regulations that provide small benefits and high costs in restricted trade.  The analysis argues that live animals and beef and pork trade between the U.S. and Canada fit that basic model.  Of course, the proposed changes would do nothing to stop the protectionist pressures in Congress that led to the MCOOL law and the WTO case.  Those can only be resolved by recognizing that the costs to consumers and the supply chain far outweigh the benefits to specific groups that gain from protectionism.

Ross Korves is an Economic Policy Analyst with Truth About Trade and Technology