As negotiators prepare to address the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the president’s order, agriculture groups are worried the farm economy will be targeted by retaliatory measures.
Most agriculture sectors have benefitted tremendously from trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, but President Donald Trump has hammered NAFTA for killing manufacturing jobs.
“We know that the agriculture sectors in both the US and Mexico have benefit tremendously under the rules of NAFTA,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press call from Mexico Friday where he is meeting with Mexican officials. “We know, frankly, that U.S. manufacturing has not. I think the president is very rightly concerned about that.”
The three NAFTA countries can begin negotiations as early as August 16, and farming groups are anxious because “agriculture is always used as a retaliatory measure,” Perdue said. (RELATED: NAFTA Negotiations To Start Next Month In Washington)
“We hope that whatever negotiations are conducted here that agriculture doesn’t end up being caught up as a retaliation target,” Floyd Gaibler, director of trade policy at the U.S. Grains Council told the House Committee on Agriculture Wednesday.
The goal of negotiations should be to “do no harm in agriculture sectors,” Perdue said. But as the U.S. seeks to “improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries,” which is one of the goals of U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer, agriculture exports to Mexico could be reduced by punitive measures.
“How we reconcile that remains to be seen,” Perdue said.
The U.S. position on NAFTA should not be pictured as a battle between agriculture and manufacturing interests. “I don’t think we’ve done a really good job in the U.S. of telling how many manufacturing jobs [are] a result of agricultural production,” Perdue said.
In the negotiations, it’s “not only farm production, but the manufacturing capacity of jobs in the US can be hurt. We also understand, and what I’m trying to do is persuade and demonstrate and inform the president and our other negotiators of how much of U.S. manufacturing jobs are there because of agricultural products and value added products,” Perdue said.
Not every agriculture sector has universally benefitted from NAFTA, and the agreement has adversely affected several parts of the agriculture economy in recent years. Produce farmers recently complained that Mexico is unfairly subsidizing fruit crops and dumping tomatoes, berries, watermelon and other products into U.S. markets.
Mexican agriculture officials hope that the the NAFTA negotiations will yield freer trade with the U.S.
“We hope we can have better exchange of information to make trade much more fluid and efficient,” Mexican Agriculture Minister Jose Calzada said during a news conference with Perdue. “We also hope that synergies will continue to be generated to do a better job in customs so that there are less obstacles to trade.”
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