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U.S. agriculture chief - NAFTA deal must end Canada's milk protein scheme

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By Reuters
U.S. agriculture chief - NAFTA deal must end Canada's milk protein scheme
FILE PHOTO: Dairy cows are seen on a farm in Saint-Valerien-de-Milton, southeast of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo   -   Copyright  Christinne Muschi(Reuters)

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Canada must end its low-price milk proteins policy to reach a U.S.-Canadian deal to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

Perdue said in an interview aired on Sunday on C-SPAN television that Canada had encouraged overproduction and flooded export markets for milk proteins used in cheese and yogurt, hurting U.S. dairy farmers.

“Our farmers don’t have access to the Canadian markets the way that they have access to us. Class 7 has to go. It can’t be renamed something or called something else,” Perdue said when asked about dairy concessions needed to reach a NAFTA deal.

“It allowed them to export milk solids on the world market and below prices that cut into our opportunity for our dairy people to have access to that world market,” Perdue said.

Canada’s closed, $16 billion (£12.4 billion) dairy market is among the last sticking points in talks between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, which broke up on Friday without a deal.

Talks are expected to resume after Lighthizer travels to Brussels for trade talks with European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Monday.

A spokesman for Freeland could not immediately be reached for comment.

Perdue said that Lighthizer has been “very clear” about the need for the Class 7 pricing system to be repealed.

Asked if it would be gone from a NAFTA deal, he said: “I think it should be. I think it will be gone.”

In April 2017, Trump nearly withdrew from NAFTA after becoming angered by the plight of Wisconsin dairy farmers whose milk protein exports to Canada had been cut off by the Class 7 pricing scheme implemented in 2017. Trump decided to renegotiate NAFTA instead.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)