Dear Trump and Trudeau: The dairy debacle doesn’t have to be this way

canada-us-cowDairy epicenter of trade friction between leaders

By Sherry Bunting

originally published in Farmshine, June 15, 2018

QUEBEC — Dairy remains at the epicenter of a trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada.

President Donald Trump and his team have been busy renegotiating NAFTA and looking at the TPP, and while progress was being made in many areas, dairy has become a sticking point that has led to friction and word-volleys between President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of the G7 meeting in Quebec in June.

Headlines after the G7 upset proclaimed that the U.S. is demanding an end to Canada’s dairy supply management system. Actually, President Trump is more specifically seeking an end to the 270% tariffs paid on U.S. dairy exports to Canada.

While the tariffs are much smaller on dairy exports that fall within Canada’s quota of 10% of their domestic production, these tariffs rise exponentially to as much as 313% on dairy exports to Canada beyond the import quota amounts.

On the U.S. side of the import/export coin, import license figures show that DFA holds much of the fluid milk import quota exported to the U.S. from Canada. Many other companies also import dairy products from Canada; however, the value of U.S. dairy imports from Canada is just 20% of the value of dairy the U.S. annually exports to Canada.

In other words, the U.S. exports five times the amount of dairy products to Canada that Canada exports to the U.S. (on a value, not volume, basis) even though Canadian tariffs are high, and U.S. tariffs are low.

Who is advising the President on dairy? National Milk Producers Federation? Dairy processing interests in Wisconsin (Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state) and New York (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s home state)? Those two states had been selling ultrafiltered milk north of the border through a loophole that ended two years ago when Canada began its Class 7 pricing for milk destined to be used in products that are exported. This allowed expansion of Canadian quota to fill the growing demand for milkfat in domestic products by providing an off-valve to be competitive exporting the skim milk that rides along with that milkfat.

The issue arises from, first, the loss of a market for U.S. ultrafiltered dairy protein to Canadian manufacturers of cheese and other dairy products, which for several years has been exported to Canada — without tariffs — because it wasn’t a product defined in the tariff schedule.

What changed? Canada added its new “export class”, which allows Canadian processors to purchase milk (or skim) from Canadian farms at lower prices when it is used to make products that will be exported instead of sold into their domestic market where pricing is governed by producer-run milk marketing boards to support the country’s milk production quota system.

Canada has allowed farms to increase milk production quotas by 4 to 6% annually over the past four years due to greater domestic demand for milkfat. This leaves more skim floating around to be absorbed in their relatively ‘closed’ dairy market.

The new export Class 7, in Canada, allows processors to make skim milk powder — and other dairy protein ingredients — at much lower costs to be able to then export them at prices below the global market, because the majority of the producer pricing is still based on the stability of milk supply quotas set by domestic use on a milkfat basis.

The loss of an export market for U.S. ultrafiltered milk solids going to Canada is not the biggest concern. The growing U.S. concern is that the Canadian Class 7 pricing scheme has provided the means for Canada to sell increasing amounts of skim solids to Mexico, which is currently the number-one export destination for U.S. skim milk powder, and that this can increase as quotas expand, at the same time reducing the need for butterfat imports from the U.S.

Trudeau knows that his party will lose support from Quebec if he does not stand firm on the supply-managed system for dairy. Moreover, this system has been in place for over 60 years, and what makes it work is the protection from imports via high tariffs.

Does the U.S. have the right to demand our ally and trading partner, Canada, give up its dairy supply management system? And if they did give it up through a transitional process over 10 years, could they not become an even more competitive force on global markets?

Multi-national dairy processors have long sought an end to Canada’s dairy supply management system because their growth in Canada is limited by the fact that they must apply for processing quota — allotted for processors to make dairy products only in amounts that reflect Canada’s domestic supply and demand.

Canadian companies — like Saputo and Agropur — in fact, have expanded processing capacity in the U.S., in order to produce dairy products with U.S. milk for the U.S. and global markets.

That said, is it really smart for the U.S. to demand that Canada end its supply-managed dairy system?

When we say “America first” in trade, should we not expect Canada to reply with “Canada first” as they negotiate?

The point here is two-fold. First, the U.S. could learn something by evaluating how Canada is using its new export (Class 7) to price its “growth” milk, mainly the skim milk that rides along with the increased demand for milkfat.

As consumers learn the truth about full fat dairy, both here and around the world, more milk is needed to supply the increased demand for fat, while not all of the skim is in equally high demand until more processing innovations are in place.

This is a new dairy market development both nations must deal with in their respective systems that were designed to accommodate the past 40-years of flawed lowfat diet dogma.

Instead of simply pointing fingers at Canada, should the U.S. not be analyzing its own government-controlled pricing fixtures? After all, the relationship between USDA and NMPF is a tight one. Not only do their economists float from one entity to the other in their careers, the two jointly control the Federal Order rulemaking process from how petitions are submitted to how hearings are administrated to how NMPF member-cooperatives bloc-vote for their farmer member-owners.

We could benefit from better negotiations with our friend to the North, but now we have gotten into a spitting-match over a system that Canada’s dairy farmers have invested millions into and where most seem to oppose dismantling.

Yet Canada has found a way to participate in the global dairy market by making a pricing loophole to gain export sales for their dairy proteins while ending a loophole the U.S. dairy industry was previously exploiting by exporting ultrafiltered milk to Canada — a double-whammy for the U.S.

The U.S. and Canada have a long alliance on many fronts as nations, and also within dairy. One has only to attend the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin and other dairy events and exchanges to see a legacy of competitive camaraderie between our nations.

Let’s not allow the agendas of multi-national dairy processors to drive a wedge.

Is the strong rhetoric surrounding this dairy dispute — and the demands about ending Canada’s supply management — just President Trump’s negotiating tactic of laying the whole game on the table before figuring out how to arrange the pieces in a way that both nations can accept?

If I had Trump’s ear on this issue, I would caution him about hidden agendas among those advising him on dairy.

I would ask him to spend time on a dairy farm, with a room full of dairy farmers, to understand that, yes, all is fair in business as they each seek markets and growth opportunities, but that most U.S. producers do not want to prop themselves up by tearing down their neighbors. There are far deeper problems in the U.S. dairy industry at the moment.

I would ask Trump to stand firm on explaining that Canada can’t have it both ways — with supply-managed dairy production and import tariffs on one side, plus selling their Class-7 priced milk powder at globally low prices to obtain new export markets for their excess on the other.

I would ask both leaders to grapple with their nation’s  respective choices: The U.S. has already chosen a global pathway for agriculture and dairy. Canada has chosen a domestic pathway with supply management. We can either compromise and work together to develop a hybrid approach, or we can each accept the consequences of the respective choices our nations have made in this regard.

The U.S. could put tariffs on Canadian milk and dairy products, and develop an export class for pricing our own excess growth milk to compete globally while stabilizing domestic-use prices — similar to Canada’s new construct — or we can convince our neighbors to limit their growth, within their supply-managed system, so as not to continue expanding via the Class 7 export pricing in a way that intrudes on the dairy export markets we have cultivated in other countries, such as Mexico.

A similar spitting-match between our countries ended the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork. That was merely a labeling attempt to identify U.S. produced meat from conception to consumption so that U.S. consumers could choose to support U.S. farmers and ranchers. Canada was among the nations that had taken the U.S. to WTO court a few years ago, and the result was that the U.S. Congress ended COOL to avoid fines, and this has hurt U.S. beef producers.

President Trump has said recently that the U.S. is not planning to pull out of the WTO, but it does want treatment that is more fair.

Now, here we go again, with the shoe on the other foot. This time, Canada’s sacred cow — supply managed dairy and high import tariffs — are being questioned. But in reality, the Class 7 pricing policy is the more pragmatic concern.

Instead of both nations trying to have it both ways while our leaders volley back and forth in a spitting-match on tariffs and mandates and the like — maybe we could all concentrate on negotiating outcomes that are focused on the farming side and not so much the multi-national processing side — to make farming great again.

After all, as go our farmers, so go our nations.

Author’s July 14 update: It was reported within the past 10 days that Quebec, Canada’s largest dairy-producing province, may be softening its stance to reconsider the Class 7 milk price policy to ease tensions between the U.S. and Canada. Bloomberg News reported that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard met with U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, noting that the Class 7 pricing policy is the main sticking point — not Canada’s supply management system of domestic milk quotas and import tariffs. In a recent televised interview, Secretary Perdue said: “The U.S. is not about trying to get Canada to ditch its supply management system…” He explained that if Canada is going to have a supply management system, “you’ve got to manage the supply, and not over-produce and not over-quota to where you dump milk solids on the world market and depress prices for our producers.” The Canadian Class 7 export pricing — in place for the past 18 months — has facilitated the export of excess milk proteins while blocking most dairy product imports. The U.S. is not alone in this concern as other countries are also affected by the movement of the lower-priced Canadian skim milk powder (SMP) to markets served by nations that do not have a supply-managed system and which do not place extremely high tariffs on dairy imports. For the first four months of 2018, Canada has doubled its SMP exports compared with year ago and by 95% over the levels prior to the 2017 start of the Class 7 pricing, which allows milk to be priced much lower when used for products that are exported, and this is doable when the main portion of Canadian farm milk pricing is stable and higher because it is matched to their domestic usage on a milkfat basis.

 

Leaving boots in the mud to seek new ground on Tuesday

 

Editorial Comments by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016

flag19Agriculture is at a crossroads, and so is America. But the choice of paths that lie before us are neither clear nor direct.

When we go to the polls on Tuesday, it will be with mixed thoughts and emotions.

As the mainstream media analyze and over analyze every breaking news story, every “narrative,” every campaign “spin,” every poll, every issue that they deem important, there is much that gets left on the cutting room floor — important issues that no one really talks about, and yet they are harbingers of our future.

What they don’t talk about – of course – is agriculture. What they don’t talk about is the backbone of our economy, the original resource from which all other facets of the economy are made possible.

Take, for example, Hillary Clinton’s speech to financial institutions, where she said she dreams of one world, one economy, without borders. When pressed on that issue, her response was to say that, ‘Oh, that speech! I was talking about the energy economy, a worldwide energy grid. I want the U.S. to be the renewable energy super-power of the world.’

A convenient response to a concept that should give us all pause — in and outside of agriculture.

In talking with farm folk who volunteer for missions or projects in third-world countries where helping to establish indigenous agriculture practices and infrastructure is deemed so important, it hit me: We will be that third-world country — maybe not in my lifetime – but nevertheless that is one path on this crossroads if we do not take care to protect our farms and our farmers. Not only is their stewardship of the land vital to regional food security, but they are the place-holders for the essence of our liberty as a nation. Private property rights and ownership are the keys to our freedom as a nation, as a people.

Globalization is happening at a rapid pace. Running parallel to globalization is market concentration as mergers and acquisitions put more and more power into the hands of the few when it comes to food and agriculture. And then those ‘too big to fail’ entities are being sold off to foreign nations, like China, who already owns, according to the Department of the Treasury, $1.24 trillion in bills, notes and bonds (about 30%) of the over $4 trillion in Treasury bills, notes and bonds held by foreign countries.

That, my friends, is the auctioneer’s gavel on our national debt. True to form as a businessman, Donald Trump is talking about the national debt. Hillary Clinton is not.

Exports are said to be necessary for all agriculture commodity markets, especially dairy, and while I believe exports are important, they are not the end-all, be-all – except to the multi-national companies that view us as though they are on a satellite in space counting their dots on the globe: production units or consumption units, bars on a graph, slices on a pie-chart, numbers on a sales report, quarterly statements to shareholders.

In these third world countries I referenced earlier — where the good folk of the USA help farmers establish themselves — one of the first realizations is that when we throw cheap food at them, through exports, they have difficulty getting their own agriculture established to have the food security we Americans enjoy and truly take for granted.

Think about that for a moment. Are we not in danger, ourselves, of going down a path that could leave us food insecure?

The trade agreements that give our farmers market access to foreign markets also give our domestic market away to foreign imports. The give and the take are contrived and uneven. Winners and losers are made, created.

There is nothing fair or free about world trade because nations are losing the ability to care for and protect their own – particularly the U.S. – and we don’t even realize it. We are focused on the tantalizing allure of what we can sell … so that we are blinded to being sold-out.

The magician’s trick. Watch the elaborate thing I am doing with my left hand while I fool you with my right.

Many of these trade agreements are not free and fair trade, but rather a march forward to globalization, where the World Trade Organization and the United Nations become a higher power than our own Congress, our own President.

We saw just a tiny inkling of this, firsthand, when Congress quickly repealed the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) last March, and when the administration lifted the ban on Brazilian beef in August, and when the first boatload of beef hit Philadelphia, via JBS, just three weeks ago, followed by a rapid downturn in cattle prices here at home.

We’ve already seen foreign interests, namely China, purchase Smithfield and Syngenta, to name a few. This week, the Dallas News reported that a team of Chinese bankers and a Chinese dairy are considering a possible takeover bid for Dean Foods, our nation’s largest milk bottler that handles 35% of the raw farm milk produced in this country.

What does this have to do with Tuesday’s presidential and congressional election? Plenty.

You won’t hear Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump talk about agriculture, specifically, but listening to their differing outlooks, overall, a few things are clear and have helped me make my choice for next Tuesday.

For me, voting for a third party candidate or writing in a name like John McCain (as previous candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich did) is not an option. Neither is it an option to write in Mickey Mouse or to leave that part of the ballot blank.

Folks, this is serious. This presidential election – for all of its circus acts – is no circus. This is our future. This is the future we are handing to our children and grandchildren. I, for one, cannot trust it to a candidate who has spent the past 30 years in the political realm as a profitable public servant, and has wasted so much of that time on her own agenda with such disregard for the rules others live by as to again be under investigation.

I will vote between the two major party candidates based on what I know about their outlook on the future along with what my gut tells me about the investigations into their pasts and what it says about what they could or would do with the power of the Presidency in the future.

Neither candidate lives like we do out here in middle and rural America. But, at least one of the two candidates lives outside of the political realm.

We are governed by career politicians embroiled in endless self-perpetuation. The more paralyzed they are in their elected offices, the more power is diverted to the longstanding and quite powerful bureaucracy whom are elected by no one.

Everyone complains about the gridlock inside the beltway, like nothing ever gets done.

Wrong.

Plenty of work is getting done in Washington D.C., it is just mainly the work of career bureaucrats that exercise more control and make us weaker, tearing at our moral fabric, eating away at the base of our economy, ripping through our roots, and chipping away at our freedoms.

There is a power- and land-grab underway in this country. Most all agriculture commodities are at prolonged below-breakeven prices while the political elite is poised to push yet another trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership, into the mix.

Meanwhile, we have a hammer of political correctness keeping us in our place, not daring to be free thinkers. Many voices are silenced as the economic and moral decay are inextricably linked.

Take, for example, the way we accept how the government imposes ridiculous rules on what our children can eat for lunch at school. All things are connected so that local communities cannot even feed their children the way they see fit. Those rules, incidentally, create winners and losers. And in so doing, the voices of the affected are silenced.

We have a runaway EPA with the implementation and flawed interpretation of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) legislation that threatens to create a second wave of land-grab after the market pushes a first wave of farmers off the land.

And then there is the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and their silver-tongued Wayne Pacelle. He is campaigning for Hillary Clinton. Her animal rights agenda dovetails with the candidate and Democratic Party’s obsession with climate change — right down to the livestock and dairy cattle on our farms.

There is so much more I could say, but to summarize, consider this: Who better to tackle over-regulation, unfair trade agreements, national food security, a vital agriculture, family farms and small businesses besieged by a labyrinth of complexities foisted upon them by a government run by self-perpetuating career politicians and ever-present, accountable-to-no-one bureacrats than a business man — a man that for all of his faults, at least does not live and has not spent 30-plus years operating in the self-perpetuation of the D.C. beltway.

We need to break free of the career politician mentality and breathe fresh air and common sense into the mix as well as to toss a bit of our sensitivity and political correctness to the side to break the cycle we are in and alter the path down which we are being led.

For all of his faults, Donald Trump is the only one of the two less than optimal choices we have in this election that fits that description.

Even on immigration reform, he is the one to have the best chance of getting it done. Only after our border is secured will our divided nation have a chance to come together with compassion for the illegal workers who are here today, working hard, making a contribution and raising their families that were born here. I have listened to Trump on this issue, and I get it. He is leaving room for that conversation after the border is secured and the estimated two million illegal immigrants that have committed crimes are properly dealt with. He will consult the American people on the next move after that first important move.

Election after election, candidates promise to shake things up, bring about change, bring people together, work for the people, protect our country.

Meanwhile, the beltway fills with sludge and slow-motion sets in to the point where boots are stuck.

Instead of standing fast, I’m leaving the boots in the mud, these bare feet are seeking new ground next Tuesday.