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Trump should make a deal with Canada to help WI farmers

David D. Haynes
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A simmering trade dispute between America’s Dairyland and Canada boiled over in recent days, threatening the livelihoods of dozens of Wisconsin farmers and prompting urgent letters from state and local officials to the Trump administration.

A number of farmers reached into their mailboxes to find a generic letter from Grassland, announcing that as of May 1, the dairy would no longer be accepting their farm’s milk. The problem, according to Grassland, is a policy put in place by the Canadian government to discourage exports of ultra-filtered milk into the Canadian market, resulting in Grassland losing its market for about 1 million pounds of milk per day.

At issue are new Canadian rules for the sale of “ultra-filtered milk” that make it easier for Canada’s farmers to sell this protein liquid concentrate used to make cheese. That has cost American producers some business, including Grassland Dairy Products of Greenwood, which has told about 75 Wisconsin dairy farms that in less than 30 days, Grassland will no longer be buying their milk.

The dispute has been on the back burner for months. Ben Brancel, the secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, wrote that for nearly a year he and others had been warning “that Canada’s protectionist regulations would harm our dairy producers.”

Brancel and his counterpart in New York state now are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers by buying up surplus cheese and butter and distribute it through USDA’s nutritional aid programs. USDA has long had that authority and should consider using it.

Resolving the trade dispute will be a harder thing. The Canadians claim they’ve done nothing wrong and blame the Americans, saying U.S. producers aren’t properly managing their own supply. They may have a point.

The Trump administration — specifically Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn — should get to the bottom of the dispute. While it’s no surprise Canada wants to protect its farmers, trade always is a two-way street. Ross and Vaughn need to remind the Canadian government of that.

As Senators Tammy Baldwin, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote in a letter to Ross and Vaughn on Tuesday, “Canada must be clearly and swiftly reminded in a concrete way that dependable trading conditions between our two countries are critically important to their country as well.”

Trump has made a lot of noise about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, something we doubt is a very good idea. But it is time to see if the “art of the deal” works in the dairy industry.