Dairy Industry Cheers Rollback of Tariffs That Bolsters USMCA Chances

ARLINGTON, VA – U.S. dairy officials today congratulated the governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada for reaching an agreement to roll back metal tariffs that have soured U.S.-Mexico cheese trade and slowed passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The United States agreed to end Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from its North American neighbors. In return, U.S. dairy officials expect that Mexico will drop their retaliatory tariffs against U.S. dairy products – including duties as high as 25 percent on U.S. cheese exports to Mexico.

“This is an important development for the U.S. dairy industry, and we applaud the hard work of negotiators from all three countries that made it possible as well as the numerous members of Congress that have insisted upon the need to resolve the Section 232 metal tariffs dispute with our North American partners,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “If Mexico lifts its tariffs on U.S. dairy in response, it would be a welcome return to normalcy with our number one export market. It would also build vital momentum for swiftly advancing USMCA towards passage.”

“America’s struggling dairy farmers are in need of some good news, and today’s announcement certainly helps,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “This paves the way for Mexico to drop retaliatory tariffs that have harmed dairy, and for Congress to take its next step to help our producers – to vote on USMCA and quickly ratify it.”

Mexico is, by far, America’s biggest dairy customer, with $1.4 billion in sales last year. U.S. products accounted for 80 percent of Mexican dairy imports by value in 2018, but that dominant market share was being jeopardized by the retaliatory tariffs.

The tariffs were likewise making it politically difficult for Congress to pass USMCA – a pact that modernizes the North American Free Trade Agreement, maintains U.S. dairy sales into Mexico, expands dairy market access in Canada, and reforms many nontariff barriers.

Vilsack and Mulhern also stressed the importance of finding similar common ground with China, which also slapped retaliatory tariffs on U.S. dairy exporters in 2018 and recently upped the ante by hiking them further on some products. As a result of last year’s move by China, U.S. exports to that fast-growing dairy market fell by more than 40 percent in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year. NMPF and USDEC have consistently advocated the urgency of resolving both the 232 and China disputes to allow our exporters to compete effectively in those markets.


The U.S. Dairy Export Council is a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. Its mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and assist the U.S. industry to increase its global dairy ingredient sales and exports of U.S. dairy products. USDEC accomplishes this through programs in market development that build global demand for U.S. dairy products, resolve market access barriers and advance industry trade policy goals. USDEC is supported by staff across the United States and overseas in Mexico, South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. The U.S. Dairy Export Council prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, marital status, military status, and arrest or conviction record. www.usdec.org.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. NMPF’s member cooperatives produce the majority of U.S. milk, making NMPF the voice of dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. For more, visit www.nmpf.org.

Ensuring Milk’s Recent History Doesn’t Repeat Itself

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

I’m reminded of this saying, usually attributed to Mark Twain, as we look at dairy’s price outlook over the next few months. For the first time since before the retaliatory trade tariffs hit last summer and ruined a promising market outlook, real signs of a milk-price recovery have once again been apparent, just as an improved USDA safety net takes effect to provide at least some relief to struggling producers.

But just like a year ago, trade turmoil – in this case, new and higher tariffs against China – now clouds the market outlook. At NMPF we are doing what we can to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, and that even if it rhymes, this time the song needs a better melody.

Now in our fifth year of low prices and our third year of trade wounds, we’re hopeful that the market signals — that the worst may be over and that better days may lie ahead – are not derailed by a trade war train wreck.

For some of the positive, hopeful signs:

  • After years of rising cow numbers dating to 2011, herd sizes have dropped every month since last July, with March’s decline the biggest of the entire period. The steady decline in cow numbers in March finally pushed milk production to levels lower than a year earlier, reducing the supply overhang that has depressed prices.
  • Futures markets have noticed the tightening. Forecasts for milk prices this year as reflected in futures show a rise of $1.80 per hundredweight over last year, stabilizing around $18, and have been rising by the week.
  • The higher milk prices, combined with steady feed costs, have improved producer margins.
  • And finally, sustained improvement in world prices for butter, skim-milk powder and cheese are in turn helping lift domestic prices, showing how global demand can benefit U.S. dairy, despite the trade-policy and export challenges we currently face.

These developments show a sector experiencing an improving outlook, perhaps putting us back on the path we appeared to be on in 2018, when retaliatory tariffs against dairy from Mexico and China disrupted exports to two of our largest markets. The question before us is whether the economic fundamentals today are strong enough to maintain the nascent recovery.

Until trade turmoil is resolved, the battle to open and expand new markets — our best hope for real, sustainable recovery — will be fought with one hand tied behind our back. And the previous half-decade has taken such a toll on farmer finances that, over the next few months, many dairies will likely continue to struggle. Help from the market is critically important – but it’s inevitable that the economic pain on the farm won’t end overnight.

That’s why there is significant work to do to help producers weather the dairy crisis over the next few weeks and months.

The immediate task is to encourage and guide producers through signup for new dairy programs, most importantly the new Dairy Margin Coverage program. At a congressional hearing on dairy’s struggles convened April 30, Minnesota farmer Sadie Frericks told lawmakers she’d be signing up for five years of coverage at the maximum, $9.50 per hundredweight level. “Dairy farming requires smart business decisions. This was an easy one,” she said after the hearing.

Many other farmers, especially small and medium-sized producers, need to make the same choice as Sadie’s family. We will be ready to help producers understand their full options, which includes not only DMC but other risk-management tools, as well as ways to gain premium discounts and allocate refunds for previous Margin Protection Program premiums provided for under the farm bill passed last year. Please watch our website, nmpf.org, in coming weeks for more information and resources as we head toward the DMC signup date in mid-June.

At the same time, we can’t accept gridlock in Washington’s ability to improve trade policy. A renewed tariff spat with China cannot be an end in itself – it must lead quickly to a bilateral agreement that lowers tensions and establishes more and better market access. The Administration must lift the steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada, and the Congress must ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement this year. We also need quick resolution to trade discussions with Japan so that U.S. dairy interests are not further punished by tariffs much higher than those negotiated by our European and Oceania competitors. These steps are necessary to provide some measure of certainty and new opportunities for dairy producers, something badly needed after the economic turmoil of recent years.

These are building blocks for longer-term recovery that need to be laid down now, when the urgency of dairy’s hard times is still fresh in the public’s mind and concern about them isn’t limited to the dairy sector itself.

If dairy truly is getting back on its feet – and we hope this spring’s positive signs show it’s about to happen, despite deeply worrisome trade tensions – then the next step will be to gain traction and move forward, because we don’t want history to repeat itself.

A little rhythm would be nice, but we’re ready to be done with the blues.


With $277 Million at Stake for Dairy, USMCA Progresses

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) cleared an important procedural step in recent weeks, moving it one step closer to possible ratification, as the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) released an economic impact study touting the pact’s financial benefits for the U.S. The 375-page ITC report found that, if fully implemented and enforced, USMCA would add more than $68 billion to the U.S. economy and 176,000 U.S. jobs by its sixth year. For dairy, ITC projected a positive impact of $277 million, with most gains coming from increased tariff-rate quota access to Canada.

USMCA’s importance for dairy extends well beyond the market access improvements with Canada that the ITC accounted for, as NMPF noted in our release welcoming the publication of the report. USMCA solidifies essential trading channels with Mexico – where the U.S. shipped $1.4 billion in dairy products last year – and tears down the controversial Class-7 milk pricing scheme, instituting new disciplines on Canadian dairy policies to keep their trade-distorting capacity in check. Moreover, the deal ushers in new rules on GIs and SPS issues to reduce the prospect of unjustified barriers to trade cropping up.

USTR touted those improvements in an agriculture-focused fact sheet released in early May that prominently featured dairy’s gains. The document’s heavy dairy focus illustrated the outsized benefits the agreement holds for it compared to other farm sectors, a result of NMPF’s strong investment in using USMCA as a vehicle for pursuing further upgrades to the existing NAFTA deal that’s boosted exports to Mexico.

“It’s important to keep the full picture in mind of what’s at stake when examining USMCA’s benefit to the economy,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation. USDA recently reported that the U.S. lost more than seven dairy farms a day in 2018 due to poor economic conditions. NMPF is pushing back against this trend on multiple fronts. USMCA does that that by safeguarding our largest export market and instituting valuable new improvements to dairy trade in North America.

To continue to advocate for passing USMCA – and also the end of the Section 232 tariffs that curb U.S. cheese exports to Mexico – NMPF and its members participated in events taking place with members of Congress in the Midwest over last month’s Congressional recess. That included an event hosted by NMPF member Associated Milk Producers Inc. for Representative Jim Hagedorn (R-MN) from Minnesota and a roundtable with Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) attended by Mulhern and Jeff Lyon, general manager of FarmFirst, an NMPF member cooperative.

Given the importance of NAFTA/USMCA to dairy and the urgent need to lift Mexican retaliatory tariffs levied in response to U.S. metal tariffs, NMPF will work closely with member co-ops and state dairy associations nationwide to build support for action by the government on both fronts.

Cooperative Members, Dairy Experts Testify in Agriculture Subcommittee’s First Hearing

In its first hearing of the 116th Congress the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on livestock and foreign agriculture focused on dairy’s improved safety net and the need for expanded exports, with farmers from NMPF cooperatives and industry leaders bringing national attention to industry concerns.

The hearing, called by Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA), spotlighted the low prices and trade concerns the sector faces while discussing the opportunities offered for producers through the new Dairy Margin Coverage program, calling solutions to dairy’s struggles one of the subcommittee’s highest priorities.

Testimony included:

  • Minnesota dairy farmer Sadie Frericks, a member of Land O’Lakes, spoke of the importance of the new Dairy Margin Coverage program as a risk management tool as her family weathers economic challenges;
  • California Dairies, Inc. President and CEO Andrei Mikhalevsky provided an overview of dairy’s trade issues, a rising concern as exports are crucial to increasing dairy demand;
  • Pennsylvania dairy farmer Dave Smith, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, discussed additional challenges including the importance of milk consumption in schools and the need to combat mislabeled fake milks in the marketplace;
  • New York dairy farmer Michael McMahon gave voice to the dairy industry’s unique workforce challenges, including the lack of a viable guest worker program that covers year-round workers;
  • and Dr. Scott Brown, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, provided economic insight.

NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern thanked the participating farmers and industry leaders for bringing their crucial dairy perspectives to a national level and applauded the subcommittee for putting dairy first on its 2019 agenda, noting that the sector’s “challenges reverberate through the U.S. economy.” Mulhern also thanked lawmakers including Costa, subcommittee ranking member Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Congressman GT Thompson (R-PA) for their helpful opening and closing statements at the hearing.

USMCA Passage Critical to Preserve and Strengthen Dairy Export Markets


ARLINGTON, VA – The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) released an economic analysis of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) today and dairy industry officials eager to see USMCA’s passage welcomed this key step in the trade agreement approval process.

Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said the ITC study is important because it moves the USMCA process closer to ratification, a step urgently needed to secure trading conditions with Mexico and usher in the improvements the agreement makes for U.S. exports.

“We shipped $1.4 billion in dairy products to Mexico last year, which accounts for more than one-fourth of U.S. dairy exports,” he said. “Without a trade treaty with Mexico in place, the dairy industry would be hard pressed to maintain and expand these sales, as our competitors in Europe are expected to implement a lucrative new trade arrangement with Mexico by next year. Moreover, without USMCA we lose out on the new rules this deal puts in place such as key reforms to Canada’s dairy system. Congress must pass USMCA to shore up our market in Mexico and harness the gains made in other areas through USMCA.”

In addition to increases in tariff-rate quota access for dairy products to the Canadian market, Canada will remove a controversial milk pricing scheme that disadvantaged American businesses, impose new disciplines on its dairy pricing programs and Mexico will update the way it treats imports of common-name food products like parmesan and swiss cheeses that could face trade roadblocks.

“When examining USMCA’s benefit to the economy, we believe it is important to keep the full picture in mind of what’s at stake here,” explained Jim Mulhern the president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “USDA recently reported that our country lost an average of seven dairy farms a day in 2018 due to the poor economic conditions in rural America. That’s a startling number, and reversing this alarming trend is what we should be discussing. USMCA helps put us on a path to doing that by safeguarding our largest export market and instituting valuable new improvements to dairy trade in North America.”

The benefits of USMCA expand far beyond just dairy; the Food & Agriculture Dialogue on Trade also summarized the value of the agreement and the proper lens through which to examine the ITC report’s results. That document lays out why American Agriculture needs passage of USMCA noting for instance that: “uncertainty about NAFTA’s future threatens the North American market integration that has created and supports jobs for many U.S. food and agriculture producers.”