By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada is whittling down its list of U.S. products that it may hit with steep tariffs in retaliation against contentious meat-labeling laws, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Tuesday.
The Canadian government is likely to target beef, pork, California wines, mattresses, cherries and office furniture, possibly along with other goods, from an earlier list of three dozen U.S. products, Ritz said in an interview.
Canada is ratcheting up pressure on U.S. lawmakers to scrap the meat labeling laws after they were ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization (WTO) last month.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say we're going to target beef and pork because that's what led us to this stage," he said, adding that it's also natural to target the other products for their political impact.
The WTO confirmed in May an earlier ruling that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules illegally discriminate against imported livestock from Canada and Mexico, rejecting a U.S. appeal.
The decision opened the door to trade sanctions against the United States, although U.S. lawmakers have signaled they plan to repeal the laws requiring retailers such as grocery stores to list the country of origin on meat.
"This is a hammer we're more than willing to swing," said Ritz, who is visiting Washington this week. "Hopefully cooler heads will prevail."
The dispute stems from a 2009 U.S. requirement that retail outlets use labels such as "Born in Mexico, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States" to give consumers more information about the safety and origin of their food.
Consumer groups and some U.S. lawmakers say the rules provide essential information about products for shoppers.
The higher tariffs could be in place by late summer, Ritz said.
(Editing by Alan Crosby)