The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

This has been a difficult year for American agriculture. But despite the challenges of a multi-year rural recession and the heartbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, the strength of American dairy exports has been a bright spot for Wisconsin’s dairy farmers.

Twenty-five years ago, U.S. dairy exports were a drop in the nation’s milk pail. Today dairy exports exceed all the milk produced in America’s Dairyland each year. Nationally, one out of every seven gallons of milk produced by American dairy farmers is turned into cheese, milk powder or other dairy ingredients that are then shipped overseas.

These international sales generate tremendous economic activity here at home — helping to sustain our family farms, preserve jobs and support small businesses.

But as U.S. milk production continues increasing, we need more and better trade agreements to knock down trade barriers and grow our foreign market access. Thankfully, western Wisconsin dairy farmers have a champion in Congress who recognizes the importance of robust dairy exports. Working hand-in-hand with colleagues across the aisle, U.S. Rep Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, has fought for fairer trade rules and a more level playing field.

Rep. Kind’s advocacy of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a clear example of how modern trade deals can dismantle unfair trade policies and open new opportunities for Wisconsin farmers. USMCA reformed Canada’s trade-distorting dairy policies and provided exclusive new access to the Canadian market for American dairy farmers. It also established safeguards for how many of our important cheese terms are used in Mexico.

Besides supporting USMCA, Rep. Kind championed enforcement provisions to hold Canada and Mexico true to their commitments. His leadership on USMCA means our government now has the tools to ensure our USMCA partners implement their dairy policy promises.

Japan is another growing market with significant promise for America’s dairy industry. While the U.S.-Japan Phase One deal made several important advances, remaining trade barriers still leave our dairy farmers at a disadvantage.

Rep. Kind helped lead bipartisan efforts to encourage administration officials to build upon the successes secured in the Phase One deal. He has pushed repeatedly for a Phase Two deal with Japan to provide greater benefits for our farmers and address remaining inequalities that are hindering growth in this important market.

Yes, this has been a tough year for American agriculture. But fortunately, Wisconsin dairy is beloved by millions – from La Crosse to Mexico to Japan. Thanks to the hard work of Rep. Ron Kind and other bipartisan dairy advocates, new doors are opening around the world for Wisconsin dairy exports, and a brighter future lies ahead for Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, processors and rural communities.

–Mulhern is president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation.

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