From the President
USMCA Fails to Address Trade Problems
By MFU President Walter Schweitzer; January 2020
The USMCA was published and posted online for all to read. It has 34 Chapters and over 1,000 pages of text and another 1,000 pages of charts, letters and annexes. I have been studying it for several days and I cannot find anything in it that makes trade better for the family farm. I have also been comparing it to NAFTA and see very few changes. Without the changes made by Congress the USMCA and NAFTA were nearly identical.
Congress forced the White House, Canada and Mexico to negotiate some changes that start to make NAFTA a fair trade agreement. Language was added to raise the labor and environmental standards with oversight and enforcement provisions. Changes were made to the arbitration procedures that may help settle disputes in the future.
Nothing was changed that would increase trade with Mexico or Canada for agricultural products. There has been a lot of rhetoric about how USMCA will increase trade with our neighbors. Not true. In fact you still have to grow Canadian varieties to export food grade wheat into Canada but Canada can dump their varieties of wheat into our food grade markets. Proponents of USMCA mainly support it because they feel President Trump will follow through on his threats to withdraw from NAFTA.
Another frustration is the language added to address the origins of steel in automobiles with detailed formulas to determine the region value of the origin of products in automobiles. In fact there are 270 pages in the “rules of origin” chapter defining how to determine the origins of products including fruits, nuts, vegetables, lamb, poultry, seafood, clothes, equipment, etc, but there is no language addressing the origin of beef and pork. It seems there is more concern about the origins of parts in a car than where our beef and pork originated. Clearly House members from steel producing states were able to try to protect their economies; House members from beef producing states didn’t.
After reading both NAFTA and USMCA I think we have wasted over two years negotiating a trade agreement that we already had with our neighbors. The only reason I can see passing this agreement is the very real threat of the President blowing up NAFTA if he doesn’t get his way. Pass it so we can focus on getting trade agreements with major markets where we have no agreements.
Corporate Subsidies Instead of Trade
By MFU President Walter Schweitzer; December 2019
To offset losses caused by trade wars the USDA created a taxpayer funded program called the Market Facilitation Program(MFP). Much of the $14.5 billion dollars of taxpayer funds targeted to help producers affected by the trade war ended up in corporate bank accounts.
One outrageous example is the $90 million dollars of corporate subsidies given to JBS a multinational meat packer. JBS headquartered in Brazil has packing plants in the USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico and numerous other locations around the globe. JBS is currently one of the largest exporters of beef to China from its plants in Brazil, Canada, Australia, etc. The facts are so outrageous they deserve repeating. While family farm income is down because of trade wars, the U.S. government is sending $90 million taxpayer dollars to JBS, a multinational corporation that is filling the void with foreign beef.
Doesn’t make sense, but very little of the MFP instead of trade makes sense. Although farmers in the North, Midwest, and West have experienced the greatest harm from trade disputes, 95 percent of counties receiving the highest payment rates are based in the Southeast (Sonny Perdue country). The disparity in payments also makes no sense. Farms in counties side by side get $150/ acre vs $15/acre. Most Montana counties got $15/acre or less and are scheduled to get no more payments while counties in the south that got the highest rate are going to get two additional payments. Like the trade war itself none of this makes sense.
Message from the President, November 2019
By Walter Schweitzer
I am honored to have been elected Montana Farmers Union President by producer members who drove treacherous wintery roads to attend the convention. I look forward to visiting with you at an event near your community. One of my main goals is to grow our membership and I need your help. Please let our office know about events in your community that would be enhanced with MFU participation by mailing, calling or emailing the details of the event to our office. Please call (406)452-6406 or email the information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to thank Alan Merrill for his 14 years of service as MFU president. He and his family have dedicated three generations to Montana Farmers Union and played a role in making MFU what it is today. Thank you to the Merrill family. As President I started by chairing the MFU board meeting Sunday. The board evaluated the state convention and the board unanimously agreed to commend the staff on their hard work. Jan Tusick was elected Secretary/Treasurer. Monday morning was an all staff meeting which provided an opportunity to get to know each other and to make a few plans as a team. Every staffer works hard each day to further the MFU goals and objectives. One of my goals is to organize a few more MFU events near you and I am counting on your help planning and turning out people to these events. Please respond to the survey in this newsletter.
My first week ended in Bozeman where I attended the MSU Agriculture Celebration. Montana Farmers Union is a proud sponsor of MSU’s Celebrate Agriculture Scholarship Dinner. Meanwhile in Washington DC, Senator Jon Tester submitted a resolution asking Congress to reinstate COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) for beef and pork. The consumer has the right to know where their food comes from and the producer has the right to distinguish our products from foreign products. In 2015 Congress repealed COOL for only beef and pork at the urging of multinational meat packers with the backing of NCBA, Stockgrowers and Farm Bureau. NFU and MFU had invested time and money for years promoting COOL for all AG commodities before Congress passed COOL into law. Some of the highest prices Montana family farms received for our commodities was while COOL was enforced. Within 6 months of COOL being killed by Congress for beef and pork feeder calf prices had dropped by nearly 50% and yet the price of a steak in the store stayed the same price.
Over the next few years all commodities followed the downward trend. Opponents to COOL claim other factors caused the downward trend, I disagree and suggest we try COOL again and see if prices rebound.I am encouraged by South Dakota Senators Thune and Rounds recognition of the misleading label “Product of USA”. They have introduced a bill that will stop the practice of letting Multinational Meat Packers from importing hamburger from foreign countries and packaging it with a label “Product of USA”. It will require beef or pork to be born, raised and slaughtered to be labeled “Product of USA”. Hopefully they will be willing to work with Senator Tester to reinstate COOL.