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Since the mid-2000s, the value of U.S. dairy product commercial exports has grown tremendously. Before that, there were sporadic periods of significant dairy exports, but they were often subsidized by the U.S. Government. As the United States has become more of a global dairy market player, the U.S. dairy market has faced greater variability in demand and prices. The United States will compete with other large dairy producers, such as New Zealand, the European Union (EU), and Australia, to increase market share in the future.

There are several reasons for the increase in U.S. dairy product exports over the years. Income growth in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and other regions led to an increase in dairy product consumption facilitated by rising global trade. Free trade agreements (FTAs) with various countries have provided the U.S. with greater access to world markets—especially to Mexico, through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). China’s market-based reforms, including those related to its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, opened what is now one of the world’s largest markets for dairy product imports. Both the EU and the United States have reduced domestic support and export subsidies for dairy products in recent years, bringing about greater openness of world markets.

The Uruguay Round led to establishment of the WTO on January 1, 1995. Before the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the United States employed explicit dairy product import quotas to shield the domestic dairy industry and Federal price support programs from international dairy markets. As a member of the WTO, the United States, along with many other dairy-trading countries, established tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for dairy products. The TRQs allow imports at very low tariffs up to fixed amounts. Any additional imports are subject to very high tariffs. Many of the individual TRQs are administered through licenses for imports of specific products from specific countries or regions. Imports have further been liberalized through FTAs, leading to higher U.S. imports from several countries, especially from Mexico and Australia.

On February 4, 2016, representatives from 12 countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). The agreement is expected to increase opportunities for dairy exports and to allow greater access for dairy imports. For the TPP to become effective, it will need to be approved by member countries.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) is a trade agreement that is being negotiated between the United States and the EU. The T-TIP negotiations are aimed are reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers in countries representing about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

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Last updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For more information contact: Jerry Cessna and Jonathan Law