March 30, 2017

Vilsack Says NAFTA Focus Should Be On Canada

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was fully implemented, our relationships with our neighbors to the North and South have become complex. That has never been more than during the first three months of Donald Trump’s Presidency.

Trump has vowed to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he has turned up the dial on immigration enforcement, and he’s vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. On Thursday, former secretary of agriculture and current CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Tom Vilsack, told AgriTalk host Mike Adams that Canada should be the main focus of any NAFTA renegotiation.

Canada’s dealings when it comes to dairy and trade are seen as suspicious to some and those suspicions are getting greater as they develop a new milk pricing classification, Class VII.

“We believe it’s potentially designed to make it very difficult to get American products in the country,” Vilsack said. “They have made it very difficult in the past.”

For a long time, ultra-filtered milk was being used by Canadian processors, and the U.S. was able to sell it to them. Now, Vilsack said it’s been difficult to get the product across the border.

“We’ve asked for information about this new system to determine for ourselves to see if it’s [World Trade Organization] compliant,” he said. “Our suspicion is that it will make it even more difficult for products to come into the Canadian market.”

Vilsack and other U.S. dairy industry representatives are trying to help the Trump administration understand that Canada is the problem.  

“If we’re going to renegotiate NAFTA, let’s preserve what we’ve got going in Mexico, and let’s strengthen and improve Canada,” he said.

Recently, Speaker of The House Paul Ryan brought up the issue in a discussion with the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

“We had a productive discussion focused on ways to deepen ties between the U.S. and Canada with respect to trade and national security,” Ryan said in a statement following the meeting. “I also reemphasized the importance of breaking down trade barriers and improving market access for America’s dairy farmers. We look forward to continue strengthening the U.S.-Canada relationship.”

Vilsack said dairy industry leaders hope to use a NAFTA renegotiation to incorporate some of the very positive things about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“Let’s use this renegotiation to use some of the best parts of TPP, like the language on geographical Indicators to improve NAFTA,” he said.

According to Vilsack, Canada does not seem open to discussion of the new system or the challenges it presents. He said the industry has been very honest about concerns and suspicions and would like them to either be confirmed or denied. For now, no details have been shared.

“This has been an irritant for a considerable amount of time, and I think they’re going to have to confront the reality,” he said. “They’re going to have to be more open than they have been.”