Capital Region

Gillibrand urges NAFTA protection for dairy farmers

Canadian import quotas hurting New York farms, senator says
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is shown during a visit to the area in 2014.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is shown during a visit to the area in 2014.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

CAPITAL REGION — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on Tuesday said that any renegotiation of a U.S. trade agreement with Canada needs to give New York’s dairy farmers increased access to the Canadian market.

The current North American Free Trade Agreement, which President Donald Trump has vowed to renegotiate, sets quotas for  import of U.S. dairy products into Canada, with steep tariffs on imports above quota levels.

Negotiations of a new trade agreement are to resume Wednesday.

“To stay in business, our farmers need to be able to export to Canada, and Canadian subsidies have kept them from doing this,” she said during a conference call. “Whatever the final NAFTA agreement looks like, it has to protect New York’s dairy farmers.”

In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Gillibrand said that farmers face low milk prices, problems attracting a labor force and international markets that are shrinking because of retaliatory tariffs.

“While this trade deal will not solve these many problems, it can improve dairy export opportunities for our producers and help them to survive until we can provide them with the programs, policies and support they need and deserve,” she wrote.

With U.S. dairy farmers in crisis because of a four-year slump in U.S. milk prices, Gillibrand also urged the Trump administration to release $127 million in aid to dairy farmers who have been hurt by retaliatory tariffs, which many countries have imposed in response to new U.S. tariffs.

Gillibrand, who is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue payments immediately to help keep farmers out of bankruptcy.

“Every little bit counts when farmers are struggling to pay their bills, yet there has been no clear explanation of how this money will be distributed,” she said.

The Canadian government is expected to fight to preserve its system, which it says keeps prices stable and small farms profitable

In the Canadian system, the farmers fix prices and limit supply, while the government sets strict limits on imported milk, in a series of policies that have the goal of keeping the Canadian dairy industry profitable. It’s a system many Canadians like, and the Canadian government doesn’t want to change despite U.S. pressure.

“Make no mistake. We will continue to protect and defend our supply-managed system — that includes at the NAFTA table,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week.

The system, he said, ensures a fair price for farmers, price stability for consumers, and allows dairy farms to remain profitable.

“We will continue to advocate to ensure Canadian dairy farmers not be negatively impacted as a consequence of any trade agreement,” said Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, which represents farmers.

The New York Farm Bureau said a goal of the new negotiations should be to re-open the Canadian market to ultra-filtered milk, which was exported to Canada without tariffs until last year. Ultra-filtered milk is used in making cheese.

“NYFB supports efforts to allow the export of New York milk into the Canadian market, and we are hopeful that the NAFTA negotiations with Canada will lead to positive results for New York’s dairy farmers,” Farm Bureau officials said in a prepared statement.

Trump, who has repeatedly blasted NAFTA as unfair to the United States, has said the U.S. will proceed with a newly negotiated agreement with Mexico alone if Canada doesn’t quickly accept a deal. On Saturday, he issued a threat on Twitter: “Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off…”

Gillibrand said she doesn’t expect Trump to see her support for dairy farmers as interference.

“It is the job of Congress, and of me, to be a voice for farmers,” she said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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