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NAFTA Replacement "Missed Opportunity" on Dairy, Climate

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One expert says the United States' new trade deal with Mexico and Canada won't do much to help Minnesota dairy farmers, who face overproduction and low prices. (Cedar Summit Farm/Flickr)
One expert says the United States' new trade deal with Mexico and Canada won't do much to help Minnesota dairy farmers, who face overproduction and low prices. (Cedar Summit Farm/Flickr)
October 11, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Minnesota-based think tank says the United States' new trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement is a missed opportunity, especially for small scale dairy farmers and action on climate change.

President Donald Trump maintains the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is a win for dairy farmers because it opens up part of Canada's market to exports.

But Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of trade and global governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, is skeptical the agreement will make a big difference for the industry, which is facing a crisis of overproduction and low prices.

She says the Canadian market as a whole is small – about the size of Wisconsin's output.

"And we're not talking about opening up the entire market,” she points out. “What they achieved under USMCA is opening up about 3.6 percent of that market to U.S. exports.

“So honestly, the impact on U.S. agriculture, U.S. dairy farmers will be minimal."

Hansen-Kuhn says this deal will hurt dairy farmers in Canada, which has a supply management program designed to support small family farmers.

Minnesota is in the top 10 of milk producing states.

Ben Lilliston, a climate policy analyst with IATP, says the USMCA maintains the status quo.

He says the deal does limit some of the NAFTA provisions corporations used to sue governments, but largely keeps it in place for the U.S. and Mexico, which could make it hard for Mexico to regulate the fossil fuel industry.

Lilliston says there's evidence past free trade deals have made climate change worse by tilting the rules toward extractive industries and industrial agriculture.

"These are the kind of sectors that have been at the table and really pushing these free trade deals, and to see that mistake sort of repeated here when we have an opportunity to fix a lot of the problems in the original NAFTA is very disappointing," he states.

The agreement includes commitments to protect the environment, but Lilliston says there's little enforcement. He also notes there's no mention of climate change at all, and says this is a step backwards.

Lilliston says it took 25 years to reopen this trade deal and a United Nations report out this week makes clear the country can't wait that long to address climate change.

"We don't have another 25 years to wait to rethink about how our various policies and economy impacts climate change,” he stresses. “We need to start acting now, and this trade agreement just repeats past mistakes."

The USMCA is awaiting approval from Congress.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MN