NAFTA talks must prioritize U.S. agriculture | TheFencePost.com

NAFTA talks must prioritize U.S. agriculture

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.

Talks began in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16 among trade officials from the United States, Canada, and Mexico on modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement. This has caused understandable concern for producers, but if the U.S. maintains the right priorities in these negotiations, the agriculture industry can benefit from an updated agreement.

Due to the efficiency and productivity of American agriculture, we produce more than we consume. Trade is vital to the health of the industry, and we should be doing everything we can to increase opportunities for our producers to feed the world.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is a strong, knowledgeable representative for U.S. interests in NAFTA negotiations. Ambassador Lighthizer has appeared before the Ways and Means Committee at multiple hearings and meetings in recent weeks, and each time he has made clear how well he understands the importance of NAFTA to U.S. agriculture.

There is good reason to be cautious in revising this agreement. Canada and Mexico are not only our neighbors but also two of our top trading partners, representing billion-dollar export markets for Nebraska's farmers and ranchers. Since NAFTA went into effect, U.S. trade with these two nations has more than tripled. With producers facing low commodity prices and other challenges, we cannot afford to cause further harm by negating the gains made under NAFTA.

Canada is the largest export market for U.S. agriculture products. In 2016, U.S. agriculture exports to Canada totaled $23 billion. Bilateral trade between Nebraska and Canada totals $1.9 billion a year. In 2015, Nebraska also exported more than $1.2 billion in goods to Mexico. Last year, Mexico was our country's third-largest export market for agriculture products at $18 billion.

Since the Trump administration first discussed its intentions for NAFTA, I have said there is nothing wrong with taking a fresh look at a nearly 25-year-old agreement to see what has been working and what could use some updating. However, the current market access granted to U.S. exporters must be the baseline for renegotiation.

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There are opportunities to strengthen NAFTA and expand economic gains for agriculture. Biotechnology is one of the greatest advancements in the industry, allowing producers to increase yields while using fewer finite resources. In the years since NAFTA was negotiated, biotechnology has expanded significantly. A modernized agreement should include updated standards based on sound science for these products.

Removing existing barriers to trade must remain the top priority for negotiators, rather than creating new ones. Our trading partners should be assured quality U.S. products will remain available and affordable for them, with the focus on increasing opportunities for U.S. exporters.

Overall, we must move through this process quickly. The Trump administration has targeted an early 2018 completion, and I am hopeful the negotiations will stick to this timeline. U.S. producers and our trading partners need certainty and as little disruption as possible.

I join with producers in Nebraska and across the country in watching closely as NAFTA negotiations continue. In my role on the Ways and Means Committee, which has congressional jurisdiction over trade policy, I will keep working on removing barriers and opening more markets for U.S. agriculture products. ❖