US dairy groups urge prioritizing trade with Mexico when NAFTA renegotiation begins

Preserving the usage of common cheese names such as "Parmesan" was an issue raised by USDEC and NMPF. ©iStock/ronniechua

When US negotiators begin the process of modernizing and updating NAFTA, US dairy groups have stated maintaining a dependable trade relationship with Mexico and removing trade barriers in Canada remain priorities.

The deadline for trade stakeholders to submit input on revisions to the trade deal was June 12, 2017.

In joint comments to sent to the US Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, USDEC and NMPF emphasized that with NAFTA in place the US has transitioned from mainly a net importer of dairy products to a large net exporter, doubling its exports of dairy.

"NAFTA has accomplished a great deal over the past two-plus decades, but it has also been overtaken by new, unanticipated forms of trade and trade problems," Tom Vilsack, USDEC CEO, said.

"We agree that NAFTA could use a facelift and our industry looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to explore ways to preserve and strengthen it."

The top request made by NMPF and USDEC, is that the Trump Administration make a "decisive confrontation and resolution" of nontariff concerns, including the removal of Canadian milk pricing classes 6 & 7, and the inclusion of Canadian dairy tariffs.

Preserving trade with Mexico

In 2016, the US dairy industry exported $1.2bn worth of dairy products to Mexico, a significant increase from $124m in 1995, according to USDEC, making Mexico the largest US dairy export market, roughly double the size of the industry's second-largest market, Canada.

"A modernized NAFTA agreement must preserve the open and dependable trade relationship with Mexico, and remove remaining barriers to trade that were not adequately addressed in the original agreement," Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, said.

In addition, US dairy companies have been working with Mexico to build the country’s cheese demand and their main concern is protecting the ability to sell cheese with common names such as “Parmesan,” “Gorgonzola,” “Asiago,” and “Provolone.”

The concern over the use of common cheese names stems from the EU working to claim sole ownership of certain cheese terms.

The comments ask the administration to make it clear that the US is "vehemently opposed to the imposition of any new restrictions on the market access opportunities for US products relying on common names."

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