A tremendous opportunity to harmonize labels on consumer products available in the three nations in the North American Free Trade Agreement is being missed.
That's the opinion of Douglas B. Stewart, president of Sobeys, a diversified food distributor based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. And it's an opinion well worth serious consideration because it involves one of the keys to making a lot more product available across borders of the NAFTA nations: Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Douglas Stewart talked about labeling during the recent annual executive conference of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. GMA is the chief trade association of packaged-goods manufacturers in the United States. He said there's little reason why each nation in the pact should have separate product-labeling requirements. Indeed, the presence of different requirements is a barrier to free trade. How could a product label that would work well on the shelves of supermarkets in each of the signatory nations be developed? Perhaps the nations should adopt the new nutrition label now in use in the United States (or some like approach) and combine it with product descriptors in each of the major languages of the signatory nations, English, Spanish and French.
"We have bilingual labeling in Canada. That makes sense to most of the population in Canada," Douglas Stewart said. "But now that we are in a North American free-trade zone, including Mexico -- and bearing in mind the tremendous growth of the Hispanic population in the United States -- surely it's time for us to get together and come up with a major NAFTA label and design that could be used universally through all of the North American continent." In his talk, Douglas Stewart challenged industry trade associations in each of the three nations to develop a plan for a unified label, and then to press governments involved to make it happen.
Maybe this concept entails too big a bite to be taking at this time, but it's certainly not too early to be talking about it. After all, it's an idea that has the benefit of having huge logic and utility behind it.