The U.S. Senate and House approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, effectively replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

There were some improvements and failures, but it represents a failure again for America's independent family farms, rural communities, and our food system and economy.

U.S. dairy farmers received access to only 3.6% of the Canadian Class VII dairy market.

Policies such as this trade agreement have led to thousands of U.S. dairy farmers going out of business. Wisconsin lost 818 dairy farms and Minnesota lost 315 in 2019 alone, and 2020 will not see any significant improvement from USMCA for dairy farms.

Cattlemen are not faring much better. We have lost a quarter of our American cattle producers since NAFTA was adopted. America’s herd has lost almost 7 million cattle, and the country lost 25% of U.S. livestock auction barns, eliminated 48 meatpacking plants, 75% of all U.S. cattle feedlots, and created a $1.4 billion annual deficit in the trade of cattle and beef with Canada and Mexico.

Beef exports to Canada (the fourth-largest U.S. market) are down 11.3% this year, while imports of beef from Canada are up 8%. Canada, the No. 1 exporter of beef to the U.S., stands at 27.7% of the total imports of beef to America.

Mexico is the third-largest exporter of beef to the U.S. and also the third-largest source of imports of U.S. beef. Beef exports to Mexico are down 3.5% while imports of beef from Mexico are up 14%. Mexico exported 1.3 million feeder cattle to the U.S. — the largest in 14 years. Mexican feeders sold for $200 less than U.S.-sourced feeders. This is especially important to Missouri cattle producers as Missouri is the No. 2 state for cow/calf production. The profit per pair was $438 in 2015, and this year, profit is projected below $138.

Because USMCA involves the two countries that caused Congress to repeal country of origin labeling, we should have taken the opportunity to negotiate implementing COOL into USMCA. Mandatory COOL was implemented in 2009 and led to a steady increase in fed cattle until its repeal in 2015. The repeal saw a 34% drop in fed cattle prices in one year.

More than 10,000 independent cattlemen and consumers contacted government officials demanding COOL be reinstated in the rewrite of NAFTA — no better opportunity to right an obvious wrong.

Fifty family farm groups sent a letter asking for reinstatement of COOL, the best promotional tool for independent cattle producers and the best education for consumers. Some of these groups included the National Family Farm Coalition, Farm Aid, R-CALF and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

But because of the lobbying power of the meatpackers and their allies, it wasn’t even entertained. Corporate agriculture, foreign meat traders and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association killed COOL, both in 2015 and in the USMCA.

The NCBA is an industry group that represents the global meat cabal, not family farm cattle producers. It benefits from beef checkoff taxes charged U.S. beef producers and from foreign imported beef competing with U.S. producers. NCBA collects the same checkoff dollar from foreign cattle and beef as from U.S. beef producers. The more imports the better for them at a loss for U.S. producers.

Its state affiliate, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, isn’t any better and lobbies for foreign control of our Missouri farmland and food system at every opportunity.

The USMCA, just like NAFTA, was written by the very corporations it benefits and will not fix any of the economic issues facing U.S. farmers and rural communities.

Darvin Bentlage is a Barton County cattleman.

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