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Sheryl Meshke, co-president and CEO of Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI), told a Senate subcommittee today that the U.S. government must pursue additional market access opportunities and address export supply-chain delays in order for the U.S. dairy industry to keep up with its global competitors.

Meshke serves on the board of directors for both the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

“In pursuing exports, the U.S. dairy industry faces experienced and well-established competitors who have been exceptionally active with free trade agreements,” said Meshke, whose New Ulm, MN-based cooperative is a member of both NMPF and USDEC. “The United States needs to get back in the game and craft an approach to pursuing comprehensive trade agreements.”

Meshke also emphasized the importance of enforcing existing trade agreements, particularly U.S. dairy export access to the Canadian market under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Meshke addressed the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, which convened the hearing on agricultural trade issues.

American dairy risks losing its competitiveness, as the global playing field slowly tilts against the United States due to competitors’ trade agreements with key dairy importing markets, Meshke noted in her testimony. She also said U.S. trade negotiators need to target priority markets for expanded access, including Southeast Asia, Japan, China, the Middle East and the United Kingdom.

Meshke also emphasized the importance of combating non-tariff trade barriers, particularly the European Union’s aggressive efforts to confiscate food and beverage names in global markets by abusing geographical indications systems. She urged a strong defense of common food names: “We can’t wait any longer for the U.S. government to proactively defend the use of common food and beverage names against aggressive global efforts by the EU to restrict the use of generic terms we rely on.”

Congress and the Biden Administration must take further steps to address export supply chain delays, Meshke added. She specifically called for the passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (OSRA), versions of which have passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and for a suite of solutions to be pursued to mitigate this complex problem.

“As Sheryl outlined so well, we are now seeing dairy consumption grow at exceptional rates in many markets around the world,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “The U.S. dairy industry is well-positioned to meet the expanding global demand for sustainably produced dairy products. But to seize those opportunities, we must take a leadership role along with like-minded countries – advancing policies and crafting trade agreements that can deliver real benefits for dairy farmers.

“Now more than ever, global markets are critically important to the health of the U.S. dairy industry,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “We need to make full use of every available trade tool – including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative, and Trade and Investment Framework Agreements – to improve market access in key export markets. At the same time, we can’t leave comprehensive trade agreements on the cutting room floor. Exports underpin U.S. dairy’s success in the present and, backed by trade agreements, exports will support the industry’s growth in the future.”