The great dairy trade war that will test president trump – the washington post static electricity zap

The dairy industry, like much of agriculture, has never been predictable. But until receiving the cancellation letter earlier this month from their processor, Grassland Dairy Products, the Gartmans at least knew where their milk would end up.

Every morning at 5, Luke, Matt and their father, Mark, begin herding the family’s 120 Holsteins from the 13,000-square-foot barn where they sleep. They guide the cows to pumps in the 12-stall milking parlor, where they produce 3,800 pounds of milk in each of the herd’s two daily milkings. The milk is siphoned via stainless-steel pipes to a Civil War-era cold room, where it awaits pickup by an insulated tanker truck.

From there, the milk travels 194 miles west to Greenwood, Wis., where Grassland processes it into butter, cream, dry milk powder and a high-protein milk concentrate called ultrafiltered milk. The bulk of ultrafiltered milk is shipped to Canada and used as a protein added to cheese.

At least that’s how it was until April of last year. That’s when dairy farmers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, took steps that undermined their U.S. competitors. Trade agreements between the United States and Canada govern what kinds of tariffs the countries can impose on each other’s goods. While NAFTA eliminated many tariffs between the countries, some large tariffs on dairy remained.

“Our federal and state governments cannot abide by Canada’s disregard for its trade commitment to the United States,” Tom Vilsack, president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama, said in a statement. Canada, he continued, has “pursue[d] policies that are choking off sales of American-made milk to the detriment of U.S. dairy farmers.”

“To use a phrase that has recently come out of the U.S., Wisconsin farmers are using alternative facts,” said Isabelle Bouchard, the director of communications and government relations at the industry group Dairy Farmers of Canada. “The Wisconsin people are trying to find an enemy — when in reality the problem they have is that they’re overproducing.”

With dairy farmers scrambling to find new markets for their milk, a bipartisan alliance of policymakers, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), have called on the Canadian government to intervene in its dairy industry.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — a liberal Democrat and a tea-party Republican, respectively — joined a statement by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) this month that alleged that the new pricing policies “appear to violate Canada’s existing trade obligations to the United States.”

Industry groups, meanwhile, have called on the Trump administration to intervene directly. On Thursday, several powerful dairy trade associations sent a joint letter to Trump, asking that he push Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue and direct U.S. agencies to “impress upon Canada in a concrete way the importance of dependable U.S. trade.” The letter called on Trump to escalate the issue to the World Trade Organization if Canada doesn’t respond positively.

The industry is also concerned the dispute could spill into other products. The Ontario price drop applied not only to ultrafiltered milk but also to skim milk powder, which could eventually result in Canadians selling more of the ingredient on global markets. That could depress prices for American farmers, and ultimately hurt them even more than the lost trade in ultrafiltered milk.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s 2017 report on barriers to U.S. trade, which articulates the country’s trade enforcement priorities, discussed the dairy concerns. Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the office, said that USTR was “aware of the importance of the Canadian market for American dairy farmers” and was “examining” the matter.

“A lot of people are very nervous in Canada because of Mr. Trump’s statements about trade,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food policy at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “You could easily see the U.S. refusing to buy Canadian beef, for instance, unless Canada opened its dairy markets.”