Dairy industry fears getting dragged into other trade issues

Alberta Milk chairman is wary that dairy could become a bargaining chip in future trade talks

Kamps Dairy Ltd. owner Albert Kamps, right, and farm hand Mike MacEachern work in the milking parlour on the farm west of Lacombe Wednesday afternoon. (File photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Ponoka dairy farmer Tom Kootstra is concerned his industry could get entwined in larger U.S.-Canada trade issues.

U.S. President Donald Trump has recently taken aim at Canada’s dairy industry, calling it unfair to U.S. producers.

But softwood lumber and the North American Free Trade Agreement have also fallen under Trump’s sights at various times.

Kootstra, who is chairman of Alberta Milk, sees potential for dairy to be dragged into other disputes.

“I think the concern is dairy could be used as a bargaining chip in future trade talks,” he said on Thursday.

He fears a scenario in which concessions on imports of ultrafiltered milk are traded off against deals somewhere else, such as in softwood lumber.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has strongly supported the existing dairy supply management system.

However, the issue has provoked others to condemn the system and the industry is aware it needs to get its message out.

“The more exposure (those opposed) get on their perspective it could soften the Canadian conviction for the value of supply management,” he said.

Canada’s dairy producers are unwavering in their position that supply management is essential to the economic health of their industry, which is almost completely geared to supplying Canadians.

U.S. complaints that Canada’s system is hurting their industry is wrong, he said.

“Their issue is they are producing more milk than there is a market for.”

Also, what has been lost in the debate is that the U.S. has its own restrictions on dairy imports.

“We import 10 per cent of our dairy. The U.S. only allows three to four per cent into their market.

“The Americans want free trade when it’s going their way. They don’t want free trade when it impacts America.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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