American farmers are concerned that renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as President Donald Trump intends to do, will hurt their businesses in both the short and long term.
While many manufacturing jobs have moved to Mexico since the trade deal was created in 1994, American farmers have clearly benefited from the ability to easily sell food and commodities both north and south of the U.S.
“Our big concern is touching NAFTA at all: It’s hard for us to improve on our access to Canada and Mexico,” Kent Bacus, director of international trade at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told The Wall Street Journal.
“We’ve got to have export markets, it’s that simple. We can’t survive without them,” Phillip Councell, chairman of the U.S. Grains Council, told WSJ.
Mexico has a $60 million trade surplus with the U.S., mainly because of manufactured products like cars and air conditioners. Even though certain farmers, like cattle producers, dairies, corn, sorghum and other grain farmers, depend on sales to Mexico, the country still sells $7 billion more agricultural products to the U.S. than Americans export because of fruit and vegetable imports.
Farm advocacy groups are actively lobbying in both Washington, D.C., and Mexico City as trade talks between the two countries loom. The timeline for negotiations isn’t clear, but the administration is required to give Congress a 90-day notice that they intend to open trade negotiations.
Tom Vilsack, president of the Dairy Export Council and formerly President Barack Obama’s agriculture secretary, visited Mexico himself earlier this month to advocate for a strong trade relationship.
“We want to reemphasize the fact that Mexico is a valued customer for dairy,” Vilsack told Politico. “Obviously any agreement that’s been around for awhile has areas where there can be improvements, but we want to make sure they understand, from our perspective, that preserving NAFTA is important.”
NAFTA became a major campaign issue for both Trump and Democratic primary presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. The trade deal is blamed with destroying jobs by making it easier to for manufacturing firms to build factories in Mexico and import goods into the U.S.
During the campaign, Trump said NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in the history of the country,” which sounds only slightly less serious than when he called now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership “a rape of our country.”
The slow pace for one of Trump’s key campaign promises, could be good for farmers. Sonny Perdue, Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary only first hearing Thursday, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on his confirmation later in April. (RELATED: Here’s What Trump’s Agriculture Nominee Wants To Do For American Farmers)
“I don’t care if its a renovation of NAFTA, or a brand new NAFTA, but we do have to make it fair,” Trump said when he signed an executive order on the trade agreement on Jan. 23. “It’s very unfair to the American worker, and very, very unfair to companies that do business in the United States.”
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