Dairy trade groups push for USMCA as talks slow in Congress
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Dairy producers and industry trade groups like the United States Dairy Export Council have a lot to gain from the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Currently, more than one-quarter of all U.S. dairy products exported around the world go to its neighbor south of the border.
“You really can’t overstate how critical that is to the products that we export,” said Shawna Morris, vice president of trade policy for the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
But farmers also have a lot to lose with both countries if Congress doesn’t ratify the new North American trade deal that would replace NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was approved in the mid-1990s. Notably, that includes expanded access to the Canadian market and stricter regulations on Canadian tariffs on U.S. dairy. The deal would “effectively implement export surcharges on skim milk powder, milk protein concentrate and infant formula” and “ensure reclassification of products Post Class 7 based on end use if appropriately carried out in keeping with the intent of the agreement” among other provisions, according to the Dairy Export Council.
“We’re looking at these current harmful Canadian dairy pricing policies living on versus having the reforms that USMCA has made to tackles those programs put in place,” Morris said.
Now, both the new deal and the dairy industry remain caught in the middle. House Democrats, cautious of both the deal itself and giving President Trump a potential victory, haven’t moved it to a vote. It’s unclear when that could happen.
Trump signed the deal in Nov. 2018 with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Legislatures in all three countries still need to ratify the deal.
But with the clock ticking in the U.S., House Republicans – especially those on the Ways & Means Committee, the group overseeing the implementation of the trade deal – are continue to push and support the plan that would essentially reform, re-write and attempt to modernize NAFTA.
“Anything written that many decades ago, the whole world has changed since then and we need to do things to upgrade to the new type of economies we have,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a Ways & Means member.
“We’re updating the agreement, recognizing the digital commerce that we live in today,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), also on Ways & Means.
The USMCA also reforms trade policy for other key agricultural industries, manufacturing and more. Top labor groups are still concerned the deal doesn't do enough for manufacturing and similar U.S. labor-driven industries and leaders fear the deal would not keep jobs in or return jobs to the U.S.
"If the Trump administration insists on a premature vote on the new NAFTA before these issues are fixed, we will have no choice but to oppose it," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka earlier this month during remarks at the United Steelworkers Canadian National Policy Conference.
Top Republicans continue to meet with Trump. The two sides are now at a point where they have to start counting votes if they want to pass the new deal.
“It’s about bringing Democrats and Republicans together on an issue that should unite us, Americans workers, manufacturers,” Reed said.
But don’t forget about dairy farmers, Morris said, who are trying to regain their footing in an international market after decades on the outside of trade talks.
“For the most part,” she said, “dairy was left outside of NAFTA when it came to the U.S./Canadian trade relationship.”