This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.
Here’s something you don’t often see in Washington: American groups defending Canadian dairy and urging the U.S. government to leave it alone.
A coalition of 18 labour and farming groups is asking the Biden administration to drop a trade action over dairy launched in the final days of the Trump administration.
They sent a letter to two people nominated to senior positions in the new administration in advance of their Senate confirmation hearings: agriculture secretary nominee Tom Vilsack, who had his hearing Tuesday, and to the nominee for U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai.
That letter, signed by smaller agriculture groups like the National Family Farm Coalition and the Wisconsin Farmers Union, urges the administration to stop fighting Canada’s supply management system.
We’ve previously reported how some U.S. farmers, battered by wild price fluctuations, dream of seeing their own country adopt a system of price and supply controls as Canada has done.
“The U.S. government has been trying to dismantle Canada’s federal and sub-federal supply management systems for years, not to benefit U.S. farmers or workers, but rather corporate dairy interests,” said the letter dated Feb. 1.
“Continuing to pursue this complaint is clearly out of step with the new administration’s stated commitments to reform the U.S. trade agenda to be pro-worker rather than a business as usual approach that actively favors multinational corporations.”
There’s no indication these groups will get their way as most of the American industry remains adamantly opposed to Canada’s supply-management system and wants to export more dairy to Canada.
The main U.S. lobby groups allege Canada isn’t opening its market as widely as promised under the new NAFTA pact.
Just ask Vilsack.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s pick for agriculture secretary previously led one of these larger U.S. dairy-lobby groups — in fact, he even complained about how Canada was implementing the new North American trade deal.
If the U.S. complaint launched late last year proceeds, dairy could be the subject of the first Canada-U.S. dispute case under the new NAFTA.
The issue didn’t come up at Vilsack’s Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday. It’s likelier dairy will get mentioned when Tai testifies before the Senate Finance Committee.
One Canadian issue did, however, emerge at Vilsack’s hearing — and it’s another old irritant involving cows that has been dormant of late.
Vilsack was asked by a Nebraska Republican if the U.S. could once again label its beef as American-grown, so that consumers will know if they’re buying U.S. products.
Vilsack replied that he’d like to find a way but isn’t sure it’s possible.
He noted that the last time the U.S. tried applying these labels, it was forced to back down. Canada called the labels discriminatory under world trade rules, launched a case, won and the U.S. dropped the labelling requirement.