Canadian reporters interested in Wisconsin dairy farmer insights

Jan Shepel

DE FOREST - Richard Madan, a national news correspondent for CTV – a Canadian television network – has been fascinated with the evolution of a new trade agreement between the United States, his home country of Canada and Mexico. He covered every one of the trade negotiation rounds that led to the recent announcement of the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA.)

Canadian television reporter Richard Madan (right) and his cameraman Marley Parker visited the Dane County dairy farm of Wisconsin State Farmer correspondent Jan Shepel and her husband Jim Koch on October 23 as part of their network’s coverage of how the new USMCA trade deal will affect the dairy industry. They were in the state to cover President Donald Trump’s appearance in north central Wisconsin.

 “Every round was high drama, and lots of tension,” he said on a visit October 23 to Wisconsin. “The meetings in Mexico City were always interesting and in Canada, it posed a challenge, meeting in Montreal in January,” he added with a smile.

The trade negotiating teams had agreed to rotate their meetings through the three countries and weather was often a complicating factor – especially January in Canada.

Madan and his countrymen were a bit surprised when Mexico signed off on a new unilateral agreement with the United States because it “put Canada in a corner.”

The television reporter noted that the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – which President Donald Trump has criticized as the “worst deal ever made” – has had fairly strong support in Canada.

So many Trump administration deadlines for a new trade deal had come and gone that it came as a surprise to many political observers that Mexico agreed to terms. It happened partly because Mexico’s outgoing president Enrique Pena Nieto wanted to get something done before he leaves office at the end of the year.

“Canada was not under pressure to make a deal because there’s no national election until next year,” Madan said. But the deal between Mexico and the United States forced a deal with Canada.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stand for re-election in 2019. The conservative party was making inroads into Trudeau’s popularity, Madan explained, until Trump began bashing him publicly. Then, Canadians lined up behind their leader and hash-tags for “buy Canadian” began trending online among Canadian consumers.

 Support for NAFTA was regional in Canada, he explained, with many people in Ontario province saying that the trade agreement “hollowed out” their manufacturing sector. “But Canada as a nation is generally supportive of free trade.”

 As part of his network’s coverage of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, Madan and his cameraman Marley Parker, came to Wisconsin to cover President Trump’s speech in Mosinee on October 24 but also to talk to dairy farmers, since dairy was such a sticking point in the recent trade negotiations.

They ended up on the Dane County dairy farm operated by Jim Koch and Jan Shepel (yours truly – longtime writer for Wisconsin State Farmer.) They wanted to get the perspective of dairy farmers on the USMCA and whether or not they think it’s going to create an improved price picture for milk prices in the United States. Madan wanted to know if we thought the new trade pact would mean more of our cows’ milk would become products that would end up in markets north of the border.

Getting shots of dairy cows in the autumn sunshine proved a good photo op for CTV reporter Richard Madan and his cameraman Marley Parker. They stopped by a Dane County dairy farm to talk about what the new USMCA trade deal may mean to dairy farmers, since the dairy industry was front and center in the trade talks.

A new poll showed that nearly half of Canadians disapprove of the USMCA, saying they thought negotiators were “too soft” in making that eleventh-hour deal on September 30 with the Trump administration. Economies don’t respond well to uncertainty and making some kind of deal at least removed that factor, but didn’t win overly high marks from Canadians.

The Angus Reid Institute did the survey of Canadians October 11-17 and released the findings on October 23. It found that 34 percent of those who responded were pleased overall with the deal and 21 percent said they’re just not sure. Only 18 percent said the new deal was better than the original NAFTA deal; 47 percent of Canadians feel it is a worse deal than before, according to the survey.

Because dairy was a big sticking point on the deal and it appears to offer the United States greater access to the Canadian marketplace, heavily dairy regions of Canada had the highest disapproval rating with the USMCA at 58 percent.

The survey also showed that 49 percent of Canadians have a “very negative” view of President Trump and his administration.

“This became a fascinating story when Trump ‘went nuclear’ on Canadian dairy farmers,” said Madan. Imposing stiff tariffs on Canada’s Class 7 dairy program to whip up Trump’s supporters got Canada’s attention.

One of the things Madan was looking for as he attended the Trump rally in Mosinee was to see how much credit the U.S. president took for the new trade deal, or if he mentioned it in America’s Dairyland and how it might affect farmers here, Madan said.

“In Canada we can’t help but pay attention to what happens south of our border,” he added. He is based in Washington, D.C. and is one of three national correspondents who cover the United States.

While in Wisconsin, Madan and Parker also hoped to be able to attend a dairy cattle auction to see what kind of prices farmers got for their animals and to get the perspective of farmers who were there.

“I can’t believe I get to do this job,” he said of covering Washington for his network. “I get to go to the White House.”

Madan was happy when he got to ask President Trump a question amid the then- ongoing trade talks. “I asked Trump if dairy was a deal breaker and he said ‘yes’,” he said.