Nova Scotia dairy industry sour over Donald Trump's comments

Nova Scotia dairy industry sour over Donald Trump's comments

The organization that represents dairy farmers in Nova Scotia is upset with comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who accused Canada of "unfair" practices that create hardships for American dairy producers.

In Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump singled out Canadian dairy supply management system as unfair to U.S. workers, calling it a "one-sided deal" that doesn't let American farmers compete fairly.

The remarks were part of his "buy American, hire American" executive order promising sweeping changes in dairy regulations. Those changes have dairy farmers north of the border fuming.

"I feel bad for the farmers in the U.S. and the hard times they're going through but the truth has to be known — what's happening in the United States is not being caused by what's happening in Canada," said Gerrit Damsteegt, a dairy farmer in Shubenacadie and the chairman of the board for Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia, which has about 220 members.

Damsteegt said Trump is looking at the Canadian dairy industry as a scapegoat to blame for internal problems. He said the federal government here in Canada has assured dairy farmers it will stand behind them.

Real problem is U.S. overproduction

Canada's supply management system restricts how much milk each farmer can produce using a quota system that's set according to the size of the domestic market. Stable prices are set for farmers to correspond with their estimated production costs.

Damsteegt said the real problem is the system the American dairy industry operates under.

"The real root of the problem is that in the U.S. they are producing too much milk for the marketplace," said Damsteegt.

Trump demands fair trade

Trump launched his broadside after a brewing trade spat that has seen U.S. dairy lobbyists accuse Canada of "systemic disregard" of its trade obligations, while the Canadian industry accused its American rival of "scapegoating."

Standing up for dairy farmers in Wisconsin "demands fair trade with all of our trading partners," Trump said, "and that includes Canada."

The work would start immediately, he added, although he did not detail what that entails.

'Disturbing' comments: minister

Nova Scotia's agriculture minister, Keith Colwell, told CBC News Wednesday that the Liberal cabinet has met with David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. He wouldn't comment on what was discussed, but said it's time to take a strong stance.

"Any time our biggest trading partner makes comments on things like supply management and everything else, especially at the president's level, it's a bit disturbing," said Colwell.

The minister defended the supply management system. He said it's worked to keep dairy prices consistent and Nova Scotia's dairy market balanced.

"If supply management disappeared in Nova Scotia it would shut down our dairy industry, period," he said.

"In the U.S. where they don't have supply management, they heavily subsidize their dairy industry so it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. Taxpayers pay for it one way or another."