Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday that one of his top priorities will be making sure Canada and Mexico live up to their promises under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a pact that is already showing cracks.
Vilsack is scheduled to meet virtually with Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos in separate meetings Tuesday, according to a USDA spokesman.
But Canada, which the U.S. is already accusing of falling short on its dairy commitments under USMCA, is the immediate priority, according to Vilsack.
When it comes to securing larger foreign markets for U.S. farmers, Vilsack told the National Farmers Union Monday he is “talking about assuring that any trade agreements we have are enforced consistent with the letter and spirit of the trade agreements – and I’m thinking specifically about the USMCA and specifically about our friends in Canada.”
The U.S. is already alleging that Canada is violating its promise to further open its market to U.S. dairy. The Trump administration on Dec. 9 began the process of challenging the way Canada was implementing new tariff rate quotas and the two countries began consultations under USMCA dispute rules, which could lead to the formation of an official dispute panel.
Canada agreed to increase U.S. access to Canada’s market for milk, cheese, cream, skim milk powder, butter, ice cream and whey through new TRQs during USMCA negotiations, but the U.S. is accusing Canadians of manipulating those TRQs. U.S. industry officials say Canada is operating the TRQs to give 85% of them to processors so they can buy products from the U.S. that don’t compete with Canadian products.
This effectively limits U.S. suppliers that want to export more high-priority products, one official said.
Before taking his current post as ag secretary – a job he had under the Obama administration – Vilsack was president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. In that role, he applauded the Trump administration for challenging Canada on the dairy TRQs.
“We knew from day one that enforcement would be key to bringing the intended benefits home to America’s dairy industry,” Vilsack said in December when he worked for USDEC. “I applaud USTR for hearing our concerns and relying on our guidance to take this critical enforcement step to ensure that the agreement is executed in both letter and spirit.”
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Officials with USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative continue to consult with their Canadian counterparts, but no decision on a dispute panel is expected until after Katherine Tai — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next USTR – is approved by the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on her nomination last week, but no vote has been held to move her nomination to a full Senate vote.
When it comes to Mexico and Vilsack’s meeting with Villalobos, Vilsack may choose to bring up issues that have been chafing the U.S. farm sector for months, such as the country’s increasing hostility to genetically modified crops and glyphosate imports.
Mexico’s failure to approve glyphosate products under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – who has vowed to ban the chemical completely by 2024 — breaks commitments Mexico made under USMCA, according to CropLife America President and CEO Christopher Novak, who spoke last summer to Agri-Pulse.
Mexico has not approved any new biotechnology traits in food or feed commodities since May of 2018, and it was just two months ago that Mexico published a decree stating that the country will outlaw the use of genetically modified corn for human consumption.
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