Lawrence MacAulay’s speech in support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was well received by an estimated 5,000 people attending the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee Jan. 7.
The bureau, the United States’ largest farm organization, also supports NAFTA.
“My message to you this morning is the Government of Canada is committed to working with you to strengthen Canada-U.S. relationship for the good of our people, our businesses and our economy,” said MacAulay, the first Canadian agriculture minister to address the 99-year-old farm organization.
“The fact of the matter is we’re friends whether we like it or not. We’ve worked together too long.
“No two nations depend on each other more for their prosperity and for their security than Canada and the United States. And today that is even more vital than ever.”
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MacAulay emphasized NAFTA and trade are important for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Since NAFTA came into force 23 years ago NAFTA partners’ agricultural trade with each other tripled, while U.S. ag trade to Canada and Mexico quadrupled.
“Last year more than $47 billion worth of agricultural products passed over our borders,” he said. “That includes more than $600 million right here in Tennessee.”
MacAulay said the U.S. has an $8-billion goods and services trade surplus with Canada; Canada is the top export market for two-thirds of U.S. states and trade with Canada supports nine million jobs — 170,000 in Tennessee alone.
“Any barriers to a huge volume of trade and investment between us, and any attempt to disrupt and dismantle the cross-border supply chain on the continent, would hurt our economies and our livelihoods as citizens,” MacAulay said. “You know as well that neither of our countries can afford to bring about policy changes that roll back about a quarter-century of predictability, openness and collaboration in North America.”
MacAulay’s speech wasn’t all facts and figures. He employed some ‘down east’ charm delivered in a warm Prince Edward Island lilt that garnered laughter and applause.
“I think you are fortunate to have Sonny Purdue as your secretary of agriculture in Washington,” MacAulay said. “And he’s a good friend of mine. And he’s a farmer and I am. And he knows what we think.”
Earlier MacAulay spoke about their first meeting after he heard Purdue wanted to meet.
“I can tell you if the secretary of agriculture for the United States of America wants to see me he’s going to see me,” MacAulay said. “That’s the way this works.”
Noting trade was a two-way street, MacAulay said Canada has exported “pretty important stuff” to Nashville “like Shania Twain.”
And with the Nashville Predators looking like they could be in the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to former Montreal Canadiens player P.K. Subban, MacAulay said: “I can tell you I want the Predators to help me on any trade deal…”
Supply management supported
Later at a news conference in Nashville MacAulay said Canada will not forsake Canada’s supply-managed dairy sector, noting all countries have sensitive areas, especially in agriculture, including the U.S., which protects sugar production.
Former Canadian agricultural trade negotiator Mike Gifford, noting Canadian dairy production is rising, has suggested a Canadian compromise would be to allow more American milk to enter Canada by increasing tariff-rate quotas.
When asked about the idea by Canadian reporters Jan. 8 MacAulay said: “It has been made very clear to myself and our government that we are going to fully support the supply management system because it has been, without a question, a model for the world.
“We see absolutely no reason to change our system. All counties have certain things that they wish to protect.
“The fact is, why would you dismantle a system that is so efficient?” he said in response to another reporter’s question.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who is skeptical about trade deals and who has threatened to tear up NAFTA, was scheduled to speak to the farm bureau Jan. 8. MacAulay said that was an important move because the president will be in the same room as several thousand NAFTA supporters.
“Farmers are business people,” he said. “They fully understand what this has done for them over the last 23 years and they do not want anybody to do something in order to cripple that movement because it affects the GDP in whatever country you’re in.”
MacAulay also told reporters in Nashville, Canada continues to negotiate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal.
“We are a trading nation and we intend to proceed in seeking trade with any country around the world in an appropriate fashion,” he said. “That’s simply where TPP is.”
Some issues are unresolved, “… but are we going ahead? Yes.”
Asked by a Canadian reporter if Canada will sign on to TPP MacAulay said: “Any deal we make has to be a good deal for Canadians. It has to be a good deal for everybody and I think the NAFTA deal is a model for that.”