Top News

Editorial: Milking trade

Feeding future members of his dairy herd is West Devon farmer and Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. chairman, Harold MacNevin. MacNevin is paying close attention to the current round of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, especially when they pertain to the dairy industry.
West Devon farmer and Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. chairman Harold MacNevin feeds future members of his dairy herd. — SaltWire Network file photo

It takes two to tango.

It’s a familiar saying, and one that applies as we adjust to the proposed USMCA (the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) replacement for NAFTA.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by each respective government.

Let’s say it does pass.

It’s still a fair question to ask how receptive consumers will be to an influx of American dairy products on store shelves, and to what extent Atlantic Canadian grocers and retailers choose to carry dairy products from south of the border.

That’s where the tango begins.

Harold MacNevin, chair of Dairy Farmers of P.E.I., said recently that consumer demand will ultimately decide whether grocers and retailers will carry U.S. dairy products. If consumers aren’t buying, then sellers will soon stop carrying the products.

“It still boils down to a business decision,” he explained.

The agreement, if approved, would open up Canadian markets by 3.59 per cent to U.S. dairy exports. With other trade deals that affect P.E.I., it would open up the dairy market to around 15 per cent of non-domestic producers.

What are the criteria we look for when buying milk? Is it freshness and the expiration date? Is it brand? Is it price?

Understandably, dairy producers feel betrayed.

To get a better understanding of how local consumers may react, let’s look at milk.

What are the criteria we look for when buying milk? Is it freshness and the expiration date? Is it brand? Is it price?

It’s probably a combination of all three. Despite the expiration date, common sense says it’s fair to ask how fresh milk might be after it travels from across the border compared to a farm down the road.

Branding could be intriguing, especially if “Trump Milk” — cartons depicting the U.S. president next to a cow draped in the American flag — are on the shelves. 

Trump Milk might also play well in local nightclubs, especially as an ingredient in white Russian drinks.

Joking aside, let’s not ignore the role price could play. The price of milk, like most things, has gone up over the years.

MacNevin says it’s up to retailers and grocers to decide how much they sell milk for, which could mean U.S. milk is sold for less than local products.

In terms of branding, MacNevin advises looking for the Dairy Farmers of Canada logo.

As a consumer, would you buy American milk?

The Guardian in P.E.I. recently asked this very question in an online poll. Only 219 votes were cast, but it gives a glimpse of what some people are thinking.

Most polled (85.39 per cent) said they would not buy U.S. dairy, 8.68 per cent said only if it’s cheaper and 5.93 per cent said yes.

And that’s the point to remember: it is a choice and consumers have a say as to how this proposed trade deal affects local farmers.

People often brag about buying local and supporting their community. But with the proposed trade deal, it may never have mattered as much as it does now.

Recent Stories