Senior American legislators optimistic about NAFTA talks

U.S. farmers would welcome a deal and it would let U.S. trade negotiators focus on pushing China to the trade bargaining table

American officials told the North American Agricultural Journalists’ meeting in Washington, D.C. April 9 and 10 that they are increasingly optimistic about reaching a new NAFTA agreement.

There’s optimism a NAFTA deal could soon be reached, American officials told the North American Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) annual meeting here April 9 and 10.

But killing Canada’s supply management system — a key U.S. objective — won’t be met, Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson predicted.

If a NAFTA deal is reached, Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson predicts it won’t kill Canada’s supply management system because of the political clout Canadian dairy farmers have. photo: Allan Dawson

“I’ve told people there’s no way Canada is going to give this up,” said Peterson, Minnesota’s seventh congressional district representative since 1991 and the senior Democrat on House of Representative’s agriculture committee. “We screwed up when we made NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in the first place by letting them off the hook on that.”

Quebec dairy farmers will give up supply management “when hell freezes over,” he told American and Canadian reporters April 10.

“Any politician in Canada can’t piss off Quebec (a major dairy-producing province),” he added. “I mean that’s what elects you right? And what’s his name, Trudeau, is from Quebec. It’s kind of like the Cubans in Florida (influence elections there).

“Whoever wins power in Canada has got to have the dairy farmers with them or they’re going to lose. That’s reality.”

United States Deputy Agriculture Secretary Stephen Censky and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate’s agriculture committee, told reporters a successful NAFTA agreement is likely.

The current agreement which took effect in 1994 is credited with generating US$1 trillion a year in trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. But when running for president, Donald Trump promised to rip the agreement up if he couldn’t negotiate better terms for the U.S.

Given Trump’s history of flip-flops, a deal might be delayed or never consummated.

Last week Trump said he wanted to explore rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known now as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade pact he pulled out of soon after being elected.

It’s believed the U.S. nows wants a NAFTA deal sooner than later because of a presidential election in Mexico July 1, midterm elections in the U.S. in November, and a Canadian election in 2019.

While there’s no set date, many trade experts believe a deal is needed before mid-May to get through administrative and legislative hurdles, University of Prince Edward Island political science professor, Peter McKenna wrote in a recent Canadian Press op-ed.

McKenna and others speculate Trump is anxious for a trade “win” to placate American businesses and farmers nervous about a possible trade war with China. It would also free U.S trade negotiators to focus on China.

Peterson, Censky and Roberts told reporters the potential harm of a trade war with China is top of mind for them and farmers (see related story).

Peterson, who is critical of supply management, said since he never expected Canada to give up supply management he won’t be disappointed if it survives.

“I wasn’t pushing a renegotiation of NAFTA,” he said.

“The president is doing it. My message to the administration has been… don’t screw up what’s working.

“I guess I’d be happy if they don’t screw up the dairy market in Mexico… because Mexico now has become our biggest export of powder.”

Avoiding harm is the U.S. goal in NAFTA talks, Censky, told reporters April 9, “… because the NAFTA agreement has been very beneficial to U.S. agriculture,” said Censky, filling in for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We have increased our exports to Canada and Mexico roughly four- or fivefold since it was signed and it has been very successful for farmers and ranchers.

“As the NAFTA negotiations are coming to a conclusion, and I am optimistic that they will end well, there are some things we want to have addressed affecting agriculture, principally on the dairy and also on the poultry and egg side with regard to market access in Canada.”

Giving the Americans more access to Canadian dairy markets, which have grown in recent years, could be a workable compromise, former Canadian agriculture trade negotiator Mike Gifford said at a meeting in Winnipeg Dec. 15, 2017.

Asked if the U.S. would settle for that, Censky replied American farmers want “complete access” to the Canadian market “because they believe they can compete… ”

The U.S. also wants Canada to stop dumping dairy products, undermining international markets, Censky said.

“Can you do that without ending supply management? I think that’s the key question for the negotiations,” he said.

Canada is not dumping, a Dairy Farmers of Canada official said later in an interview.

Senator Roberts was sanguine about NAFTA too after speaking to U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer by telephone April 9.

“He (Lighthizer) indicated to me he’s optimistic about NAFTA,” Roberts told reporters April 10. “And that certainty would be great news in agriculture. We need some sunshine, some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Hopefully, if Bob is correct, things will go better with regards to NAFTA and there will be some good news on that in the next several weeks.

“I am optimistic that we will see a breakthrough with regards to NAFTA, more specifically with Mexico. I know that the Canadians are a tad bit more adamant with regard to the positions that they have taken… ”

Roberts said Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland told him Canada will be the last to leave the negotiating table.

“This next year (2019) is an election year for President (sic) (Justin) Trudeau and it would be a good thing if we settled this thing before that time arrives,” Roberts said. “The same thing is true for Mexico.”

About the author


Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.



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