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Overnight ...Temperatures will range from 33 to 36 degrees with mostly cloudy skies. Winds will remain steady around 5 miles per hour from the east. No precipitation is expected.
Wednesday...Temperatures will range from a high of 55 to a low of 34 degrees with partly cloudy skies. Winds will range between 0 and 9 miles per hour from the southsoutheast. No precipitation is expected.

Protesters oppose trade agreement

March 6, 2014 | 0 comments

LA CROSSE

            The group Family Farm Defenders organized a march to Rep. Ron Kind’s office in La Crosse Friday to urge him to oppose “fast track” authority and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries.

            Proponents of the measure said it would unite 40 percent of the world’s economy in one pact.

            The group delivered a basket of what they said were “mystery” dairy products made with imported milk protein concentrates (MPC) that they believe hurt Wisconsin (and U.S.) dairy farmers.

            The protest, which included members of the interest group Food and Water Watch, as well as students, was organized because 3,400 people were in town for the 25th annual MOSES Organic Conference – the largest organic conference of its kind in the nation.

            Joel Greeno, a Kendall farmer who is president of the Family Farm Defenders took his daughters, aged 7 and 2 along on the march from the organic conference to Kind’s office.

            “We encouraged Kind that if fast track authority came up, to vote against it,” Greeno told Wisconsin State Farmer by telephone.

            The group believes that if fast track authority were taken out mix, it would effectively kill the entire TPP – something Greeno said would be a good thing for U.S. farmers and workers.

            So-called “fast-track” authority, if granted to the president, would mean that Congress would only get an up or down vote on the TPP and other future trade agreements. This would keep hard-fought trade agreements from being tied up in Congressional politics.

            The trade agreement being negotiated with New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico and Japan is generally opposed by labor and environmental groups, National Farmers Union and groups like the National Family Farm Coalition, which includes 32 farm and allied groups.

            Greeno said one of the reasons he opposes it is that it would ban “buy American” campaigns. “If it passes and there were any kind of programs to urge people to buy American-made products, they could be taken to court.”

            The agreement, if passed, would also include significant foreign investor protections and “huge benefits for banks,” Greeno said, as well as higher prices for prescription drugs.

            In the dairy arena, he worries that the TPP would open even more doors to products like MPC from places like New Zealand and Australia, which his group believes will undermine prices paid to U.S. dairy farmers.

            “There’s a slew of issues that would affect U.S. farmers,” Greeno said.

            “Since 1996 the United States has been a milk-deficit nation. We’re 20 billion pounds short every year or more, but imports dictate how much our milk prices (to farmers) will go up.

We can no longer afford to have such ‘cheap’ dairy byproducts from China, New Zealand, or India displacing our domestic production -- we need food sovereignty instead,” he added.

            “We wanted to help Rep. Kind make the right choice.”

John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, said that at last year's MOSES conference many attendees were shocked to learn that the United States now imports over 265 dairy products.

“Consumers remain woefully ignorant of this reality since there is no country-of-origin labeling (COOL) required for dairy.”

Peck said his group is concerned that some products have no safety testing and some are not even legally approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in human food.

“Nonetheless, in 2012 alone over 240 million pounds of casein and MPC were imported.  Who really stands to profit from such free trade deals is New Zealand-based Fonterra, which already controls 40 percent of the global dairy trade and is now aggressively expanding its U.S. market influence.” Peck said.

Greeno believes that global free trade is “just another way of extracting our wealth and sending it even further away.”

“If Congress grants Fast-Track Authority and approves this Trans-Pacific Partnership that just means multinational corporations will have even more freedom to seek out the cheapest workers and products wherever they can find them,” Greeno added.

Last fall several members of the House of Representatives formed a bipartisan group called Friends of the TPP Caucus. One of its members is Rep. Ron Kind.

 

Two dairy groups caution

One day before the group of farmers delivered their message in La Crosse, two of the nation’s largest dairy groups issued a joint statement on the ongoing trade negotiations, reiterating their concerns regarding New Zealand’s “monopolistic dairy structure” that “creates unfair commercial advantages for a single company.”

The groups reminded U.S. negotiators that the TPP talks must address that concern.

The National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council said that if the 12-nation agreement is reached, it must result in the free trade of dairy products between the United States, Canada and Japan.

The two groups, representing American dairy farmers, processors and exporters, said progress on market access into those two markets has been “frustratingly slow,” and U.S. negotiators shouldn’t allow the process to drag on indefinitely.

The dairy groups issued their warnings as ministerial-level meetings wore on in Singapore last week on several contentious, unresolved issues, including resistance by Canada and Japan to allow further market access for “sensitive” sectors, including dairy imports.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation said the U.S. dairy industry is prepared to eliminate all tariffs affecting dairy trade with Canada and Japan, as long as they do the same.

“If Japan and Canada are not willing to make an effort and offer realistic market access to the United States, then they are not serious about being part of TPP.”

Tom Suber, president of USDEC, said the principle of creating “comprehensive market access” is too important to the TPP and future trade agreements.

“If Japan and Canada are not committed to this goal, we need to move forward without them.”

 

Sanitary concerns

Suber and Mulhern said that in addition to addressing market access, any comprehensive agreement also must include effective disciplines for applying sanitary and phytosanitary measures that are science-based and enforceable.

But for now, the trade pact is at a standstill. Negotiations ended on Tuesday (March 4) in Singapore and no further talks have been scheduled. Trade negotiators failed to make any major breakthroughs on the sticking points.

Japan’s opposition to proposals on agricultural trade – including grain, meat and dairy – was mentioned by business experts as one reason the talks collapsed.

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