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U.S. Wins USMCA Dispute with Canada Over Dairy Market Access

January 5, 2022

More than a year of work from NMPF and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) reaped dividends for dairy Jan. 4, as a landmark decision found that Canada is improperly restricting access to its market for U.S. dairy products and violating its U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) tariff-rate quota (TRQs) commitments.

The case, the first of any kind brought before a USMCA Dispute Settlement Panel, was launched with broad bipartisan support last May after months of urging from NMPF and USDEC, which is urging Canada to comply swiftly with the panel’s ruling.

“The United States and Canada negotiated specific market access terms covering a wide variety of dairy products, but instead of playing by those mutually agreed upon rules, Canada ignored its commitments. As a result, U.S. dairy farmers and exporters have been unable to make full use of USMCA’s benefits,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, calling the decision” an important victory for U.S. dairy farmers and the millions of Americans whose jobs are tied to the U.S. dairy industry.”

TRQs are a system of tariffs negotiated between countries that allow a predetermined quantity of imports at a specified tariff rate, where that rate is often at or near zero. Any additional imports above that predetermined quantity are subject to significantly higher tariffs. In the case of U.S. dairy products, these additional Canadian tariffs typically price U.S. dairy products out of Canada’s market, making fair access to Canadian dairy TRQs vital to maximizing exports to that market.

When the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) brought the case in May, it argued that Canada has maintained dairy TRQ measures that run counter to its market access obligations under USMCA. USMCA specifically requires that Canada open its TRQ application process to anyone active in the Canadian food and agriculture sector. Yet USTR noted that Canada designates the bulk of its quotas to Canadian dairy processors who have little incentive to import, does not provide fair or equitable procedures for administering the quotas, and does not give retailers any access to them. These measures deny the ability of U.S. dairy farmers, workers, and exporters to use the TRQs and fully benefit from USMCA.

While the United States tried to resolve the matter through consultations with Canada before initiating the Dispute Settlement Panel, Canada refused to change its policies. NMPF and USDEC engaged USTR and Congress, achieving broad bipartisan support from more than 125 members of the House and Senate for bringing this matter to the USMCA Dispute Settlement Panel. There, a panel of legal experts evaluated Canada’s current dairy trade policies against its commitments under USMCA and found Canada was not meeting its USMCA obligations.