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Pence praises USMCA trade deal during visit

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Vice President Mike Pence takes his seat at a discussion  Friday, July 17, 2020 at Morning Star Dairy in Onalaska. Pence visited the dairy farm and promoted the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced the North America Free Trade Agreement. The farm is owned by John and Barb Schaller.

Sitting inside a cavernous machine shed at John and Barbara Schaller's dairy farm, Vice President Mike Pence told those gathered for a roundtable discussion that he felt "right at home".

“I’m just a small town guy from Southern Indiana. We didn’t have dairy cattle, but we had about 100 head of cattle, and it is great to be on this wonderful farm,” Pence told those in attendance at the July 17 event at Morning Star Dairy, north of Onalaska.

Pence was set to visit the western Wisconsin location on March 5, but cancelled the event to lead the Trump administration's taskforce against the COVID-19 pandemic.

After touring the dairy farm, Pence addressed community members and the media about the United State-Mexico-Canada Agreement that went into effect on July 1. The revamped trade deal replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Pence touted USMCA as a "great win for American agriculture" pointing to changes that include the elimination of Canada's milk price classes 6 and 7 by Jan. 1, 2021.

According to terms of the USMCA, Canada will ensure that the price for skim milk solids used to produce nonfat dry milk, milk protein concentrates, and infant formula will be set no lower than a level based on the United States price for nonfat dry milk. Canada has also committed to adopt measures designed to limit the impact of any surplus skim milk production on external markets. 

“We leveled the playing field for American dairy,” Pence told those in attendance, adding that the agreement is expected to increase U.S. dairy exports substantially.

Vice President Mike Pence who toured Morning Star Dairy on July 17 acknowledged that farmers have been hit hard by the pandemic and thanked them for keeping food on America's tables.

"We predict within six years, the United States is actually going to increase our exports by 50,000 metric tons of milk, 12,000 metric tons of cheese, 10,000 metric tons of cream, and the list goes on,” WIZM radio reported.

The vice president acknowledged that farmers have suffered from the impacts of the pandemic especially due to falling commodity prices and demand from the disruption of the supply chain and closing of restaurants, schools and other institutions.

“(Farmers) came through and kept food on the table,” Pence he told the media.

Pence pointed to the financial assistance made available to farms and other businesses through the CARES Act including the Paycheck Protection Program that allowed small businesses - including farms - to avoid laying off workers.

While Pence says farms would be included in a second round of pandemic relief, whether that will happen remains to be seen. Congress is set to reconvene this week at a critical juncture following a two-week recess as the $600 weekly unemployment benefits under the CARES Act are set to expire at the end of the month.

Policymakers will debate whether more emergency stimulus checks and extra unemployment payments are needed to keep jobless people afloat as workers and businesses continue to grapple with the economic fallout of the pandemic. 

USA TODAY contributed to this report