Ag groups issue varying statements on NAFTA objectives |

Ag groups issue varying statements on NAFTA objectives

The Hagstrom Report
Ron Bonnett
The Hagstrom Report |

The leaders of three large farm groups in the United States, Canada and Mexico sent negotiators on the North American Free Trade Agreement a joint declaration of objectives, but other organizations issued statements with a variety of viewpoints.

Zippy Duvall of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Ron Bonnett of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Bosco de la Vega of the Consejo Nacional Agropecuario in Mexico held a news conference on Aug. 16 at the National Press Club and signed a joint declaration they said will be delivered to the negotiators from all three countries.

The declaration urges the negotiators to make improvements but “do no harm” to the successes NAFTA brought to agricultural trade, Duvall told reporters.

He also said there would be an opportunity to discuss commodities, but the negotiators should “enter these talks with cool heads.”

Bonnett said, although U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer emphasized the need for negotiations on manufacturing, he did note the achievements in agriculture.

Bonnett said it is vital the voices of farmers and ranchers are heard as negotiations continue.

The three leaders said the negotiators should focus on increasing exports, harmonizing the regulatory environment, making sanitary and phytosanitary rules based on science and eliminating any non-science-based regulations, Bonnett said.

De la Vega said he was glad to hear Lighthizer mention agriculture and that Mexico wants transparency in regulations. But while U.S. and Canadian negotiators have talked about making labor standards stricter, De la Vega said labor issues should be left up to each country.

Reporters asked the three leaders about conflicts within agriculture, such as the Florida tomato growers’ concerns about Mexican imports and U.S. dairy producers’ concerns about the Canadian supply management system, but the leaders tried to avoid those topics.

Bonnett said the three agreed to emphasize those issues they have commonality with. But he added the Canadian government intends to defend the Canadian supply management system and his organization supports its government’s position.

Duvall said when issues such as the Florida tomato growers’ concerns come up, a quick solution should be found.

Asked repeatedly about whether American farmers wish Trump never proposed a renegotiation, Duvall said American farmers did not seek the negotiation, but the campaign rhetoric started and Trump was elected, and farm leaders have decided to take a positive approach.

“We are going into this very optimistic,” Duvall said. But he added, “If you start swapping off the gains we have made in agriculture for some other business sector, that could be harmful to American agriculture.”

De la Vega noted Mexico started exploring its trade relationships with other parts of the world, particularly Asia, and Duvall said it would be bad if Canada and Mexico take their business elsewhere.

Other groups also issued statements.

Farmers for Free Trade, a nonprofit group chaired by Sara Lilygren, a former Tyson executive, and led by former Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., issued a set of negotiating objectives on Aug. 15.

“We urge the administration to seize this opportunity to keep America’s agriculture industry strong and prosperous,” Lilygren said.

“Farmers for Free Trade supports enhancements to NAFTA that take into consideration the competitive advantage a majority of American producers enjoy. Improvements should include the elimination of any remaining tariffs on trade in North America as well as address non-tariff barriers, including the restrictive administration of tariff-rate quotas.”

The five goals Farmers for Free Trade recommends the administration meet in NAFTA modernization negotiations are to:

» Ensure and increase market access for U.S. agricultural products and services;

» Reduce risk by implementing consistent and transparent customs and regulatory procedures;

» Simplify and harmonize packaging and labeling requirements;

» Enhance intellectual property protections for ag innovation; and

» Create new channels for small and medium-sized ag producers serving customers through ecommerce channels.

The Sweetener Users Association, which was displeased with the agreement reached recently between the United States and Mexico to resolve a dispute over Mexican exports that the U.S. government said amount to dumping of subsidized sugar, today urged the negotiators to establish a tariff rate quota for Mexico that would be exempt from reference prices in the suspension agreements, restore re-export trade and provide additional access for Canada.

“Although we oppose new quotas generally, the terms of the recently announced modifications to the 2014 suspension agreements appear to be so onerous for industrial sugar users, such that some relief is urgently required,” SUA said. “This TRQ should be in addition to the minimum TRQ for other World Trade Organization members in order to achieve the goal of adequate supplies at reasonable prices for our domestic market.”

The group, composed of candy companies and other industrial sweetener users, added, “Mexico should again permit U.S. sugar to enter duty-free under the Refined Sugar Re-Export Program and Mexico’s IMMEX program. This trade will benefit both nations.

“The negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership demonstrated that modest additional amounts of sugar from Canada and other origins could easily be accommodated without damaging the U.S. sugar policy regime,” SUA concluded. “At a minimum, the cumulative concessions U.S. negotiators made to Canada and other TPP countries should be provided to Canada under any new NAFTA agreement.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson urged the negotiators to eliminate the investor-state dispute settlement arbitration provision and to re-establish country-of-origin labeling for red meat.

“NAFTA established a set of trade parameters that have benefited corporate America at the expense of rural American communities and economies,” Johnson said in a news release.

Johnson noted that NAFTA was the first U.S. trade agreement to include the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration procedure, which allows foreign companies to sue governments over laws that undermine their profits.

“These suits go before foreign tribunals, and their results can ultimately dictate U.S. laws,” Johnson said.

“Provisions like ISDS tip the scales in favor of multinational corporations, consolidating money and power into the hands of few. They need to be eliminated through this renegotiation process to support vibrant family farm operations and rural communities,” he said.

Johnson also said that the renegotiation provides Trump the opportunity to “restore facets of U.S. sovereignty, like the ability to implement country-of-origin labeling on meat products. Just two years ago, a challenge from Canada and Mexico ultimately convinced Congress to repeal the COOL law, which was supported by more than 90 percent of American consumers.”

“We cannot allow the interests of foreign governments and multinational corporations to dictate our laws here at home,” said Johnson. “The repeal of COOL is a perfect example of just how much of our sovereignty we’ve traded away through trade deals. This issue must be addressed in the NAFTA renegotiation. Any provisions keeping the U.S. from instituting COOL or any other commonsense law need to be struck from all of our trade agreements moving forward.”

Congress repealed COOL after the United States lost a challenge to the program from Canada and Mexico in the World Trade Organization.

A coalition of family farm groups in all three countries said they worry that the renegotiation will hurt smaller producers.

In a joint statement, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Rural Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Canada’s National Farmers Union and Mexico’s National Association of Rural Producers, said, “As the formal talks to renegotiate NAFTA begin in Washington, D.C., this week, family farm organizations from Canada, the United States and Mexico denounce the direction of the talks. Despite repeated demands by civil society organizations in all three countries, the governments have refused to open the talks to the public or to publish proposed negotiating texts. All signs point to negotiations designed to increase agribusiness exports and corporate control over the food system rather than to support fair and sustainable trade and farming systems.”