A dairy cow chews a mouthful of cattle feed with seaweed at the UC Davis Dairy Teaching and Research Facility in Davis, Calif., on Thursday. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee)

A dairy cow chews a mouthful of cattle feed with seaweed at the UC Davis Dairy Teaching and Research Facility in Davis, Calif., on Thursday. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee)

Canada’s dairy processors to lose $100M if USMCA takes effect in July: Plett

‘We’re not talking small adjustments,” says Mathieu Frigon, CEO of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada

The federal government has betrayed Canada’s dairy processors by allowing the United States to activate the new North American trade deal on July 1 — a month earlier than the industry was expecting, the Opposition leader in the Senate said Tuesday.

Sen. Don Plett warned the country’s 470 processing facilities, an industry that employs more than 24,000 people and contributes $18 billion annually to the Canadian economy, stand to lose upwards of $100 million if the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement takes effect as scheduled.

That’s because the dairy industry’s “quota year” for a number of key products begins in August, and many of the terms of the agreement are tied directly to the production calendar. Enacting the deal in July would mean that Year 1 — a 12-month period the industry was counting on to adjust to the new landscape — only lasts 31 days.

“We’re not talking small adjustments,” said Mathieu Frigon, president and CEO of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada.

“We’re talking adjustment to products, portfolios — the product mix of my members, so that means that requires often plants retooling, new products, you have to find a new market. Now we’re left to do all of this basically within 30 days.”

The new USMCA opens up to U.S. producers some 3.6 per cent of a Canadian dairy market that had previously been exclusively available to domestic producers — a change that some producers have predicted will carve a $240-million chunk off the industry’s bottom line.

It also requires the elimination of a pricing system that restricted American imports of certain products, including skim milk powder, milk protein isolates and infant formula, while at the same time restricting Canada’s ability to export those same products into the U.S. market.

Adding insult to injury, Frigon added, is that all of this comes at a time when both processors and dairy producers are already feeling the brunt of the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has a multiplier effect, you know, in the current business environment.”

In exchange for agreeing to fast-track the government’s implementation bill last month, with COVID-19 bearing down on North America, Plett said Conservatives in the Senate received a “guarantee” from the governing Liberals that the USMCA, which is also known as CUSMA north of the border, would not go into effect before August.

But late last week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer served notice to Canada, Mexico and Congress that all three parties to the deal had finished their necessary domestic housekeeping, starting a clock that makes the deal the law of the land on the first day of the third month after the final country provides notice that its internal processes are complete.

By giving its own notice on April 2, Canada gave the U.S. the power to decide when the agreement would take effect, Plett said.

“The government’s latest decision to move ahead with CUSMA on the backs of our dairy processors in the middle of a global pandemic is completely inexcusable,” he said in a statement.

“How can Canadians trust that the government is doing everything it can to protect and defend the Canadian economy when they are willing to give up on one of the founding industries in our country?”

Plett called the change in timing, particularly in the throes of the pandemic, a betrayal of the Canadian dairy industry. And he suggested that tensions between Ottawa and Donald Trump’s White House forced the government to make concessions.

“One has to wonder if the government was forced into this weakened position with our biggest trading partner as a result of the prime minister’s overall mismanagement of this crisis, and his strained relationship with the Trump administration.”

In a statement late Tuesday, the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the government’s handling of the agreement, reiterated a promise to compensate the dairy sector and denied Plett’s claim that the government ever promised a specific timeline for the deal taking effect.

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we preserve and position our economy for the recovery — including our essential and privileged access to the U.S. market. We preserved and protected supply management in the face of U.S. demands to fully dismantle it,” said Katherine Cuplinskas, Freeland’s press secretary.

“Any assertion that there was a guaranteed entry-into-force date is incorrect; the agreement states it will enter into force on the first day of the third month after all three countries ratify it.”

Dan Ujczo, a lawyer who specializes in Canada-U.S. trade issues at the firm Dickinson Wright in Columbus, Ohio, pointed out that the federal government bought Canada an extra month of time by waiting until early April to serve notice to the U.S. and Mexico, making it impossible to meet Lighthizer’s own preferred timetable of June 1.

“I thought Canada actually played it masterfully by issuing its certification on April 2, because that addressed the issue of making sure it was July 1, not June 1 … and combated USTR concerns that Canada was dragging its feet,” Ujczo said.

“I think Canada had always kind of indicated that it was going to push this as far as it could, but I don’t think there was ever a direct commitment that Aug. 1 will be the date. I think it was more, ‘We’ll give it the old college try.’”

While dairy producers are obviously a vital component of the industry, the processing side of the equation is often overlooked — and continues to be, Frigon said.

“As I always say, a viable, sustainable supply management system needs both a viable farming sector, and a processing sector. And we often forget about the latter part, and that’s really unfortunate.”

James McCarten , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusDairy Farmers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

Most Read