Australia trade deal may hurt Vermont dairy industry

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(Host) Both of Vermont’s U.S. senators are warning that a proposed free trade agreement with Australia could have a devastating impact on Vermont’s dairy industry. Senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords are concerned that pact will allow farmers in Australia and New Zealand to flood the U.S. market with imported milk products.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the next few months, the U.S. Senate is expected to consider a proposal by the Bush administration to establish a new free trade agreement with Australia. It’s likely that the agreement will allow farmers in Australia and New Zealand to sell their dairy products in the United States at very competitive prices – something they can’t do at this time.

According to the National Milk Producers Federation, the proposed agreement could lead to a flood of imports in this country that would put 25 percent of the nation’s farmers out of business. A coalition of senators that represent dairy states are urging the Bush administration to proceed very slowly with this agreement. Senator Jim Jeffords says the impact on Vermont could be enormous:

(Jeffords) “And those industries which are critical in the food industry, if you put them put of business then you’re really at the mercy of the markets of getting stuff over here. Because you just don’t turn around a dairy farm and create it overnight. It takes years and so it could be very damaging in the long run as well as the short run.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy says the proposed trade agreement could have a very negative impact on milk prices in this country – a situation that would hurt many Vermont dairy farmers:

(Leahy) “If you knock down milk prices a certain amount then dairy farmers just have to go under. They can’t compete if the imports are considerably less than ours, you can’t compete. But then what happens – especially in a state like ours – you lose a lot of the attraction to the tourist industry and all the other things. They can work out a trade agreement with Australia but they don’t have to do it in a way that kills our dairy industry.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the bipartisan coalition of senators hopes to convince the president that while free trade agreements may benefit a number of businesses, the nation’s dairy industry is not one of them.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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