Canada’s Milk Policy Sours on Wisconsin Dairy Farmers; Trump Promises Action

Wisconsin dairy cows out to pasture. President Trump vowed to help dairy farmers who have an ‘unfair’ trade deal with Canada. ©David Willman

by Long Hwa-shu & Tina Johansson

The Canadian government’s decision to stop buying milk from the United States has soured on Wisconsin dairy farmers – so much so that President Donald Trump said he would do something to help them out during his visit to Kenosha Tuesday.

Calling Ottawa’s action “unfair and one-sided,” the president said he planned to talk to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about it.

After Canadian dairy farmers complained, Canadian importers have since March stopped buying what they call Class 7 milk or ultra-filtered milk concentrate used to make cheese from the U.S. – Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Trump is concerned because Wisconsin is the nation’s Number Two producer of milk – to the tune of 30.1 billion pounds in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. California is in first place.

Wisconsin, its people nicknamed cheese heads, is the nation’s largest cheese maker, producing 3.1 billion pounds of cheese last year.

For years the U.S. has exported cheese-making milk, mainly from Wisconsin and New York, to Canada duty-free under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  After Canadian dairy farmers complained, Canadian importers have since March stopped buying what they call Class 7 milk or ultra-filtered milk concentrate used to make cheese from the U.S., according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

One reason is that it’s reportedly cheaper for Canadian cheese makers to buy Canadian milk than imported milk from the U.S.

An unfair disadvantage” is how Gov. Scott Walker described Canada’s dairy policies that he believes are a violation of trade agreements between the two countries.

As many as 60 Wisconsin dairy farms have been affected by the embargo. Together, they used to sell as many 1.03 million pounds of milk a day north of the border, according to the milk marketing board.

The affected Wisconsin dairy farmers are left holding the pail, so to speak.

“We hope some action will be taken soon by Washington because the cows have to be milked every day or they dry out,” said an official of the milk marketing board who declined to be named.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called Canada’s dairy policies a violation of trade agreements between the two countries which he said put U.S. producers at “an unfair disadvantage.”

“We don’t need to investigate, we need to act,” he said.

Some Wisconsin cheese makers have come to the rescue by buying milk from 12 of the 60 affected dairy farms, according to the marketing board.

In a letter responding to President Trump’s remarks about the dairy industry, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, said Tuesday that Trump was wrong when he charged that Canada’s trade practices in the dairy are “very unfair.”

Quoting a U.S. Agriculture Department’s dairy outlook report, Dave MacNaughton said the report “clearly indicates the poor results in the U.S. dairy industry are “due to U.S. and global over production.”

He contends that the Canadian dairy industry is less protectionist than that of the U.S. , counter-charging that the U.S. has employed technical barriers to keep Canadian dairy off the U.S. market.

The U.S. is a vital trade partner with Canada which exports 75 percent of its goods and services to the U.S. Only 18 percent of the U.S. exports go to Canada.

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