Stallman calls Trump NAFTA tweets ‘fake news,’ says ag must speak up
Bob Stallman, the former American Farm Bureau Federation president, said today (April 26) that President Donald Trump’s statements that the North American Free Trade Agreement has been a disaster amount to “fake news,” and he urged American farmers and their leaders to go to the American public with the message that free trade has been good for most farmers.
Stallman made the statements before there were media reports that the White House is working on an executive order for the U.S. to withdraw from NAFTA.
Stallman did not mention Trump directly, but it was clear he had Trump in mind when he said at a Farm Foundation event that “the statements in the news that NAFTA is the worst thing that has happened — that is fake news.”
Stallman, who served as president of Farm Bureau for 16 years from 2000 to 2016 and now farms and runs Oak Canyon Ventures, a management consulting business in Columbus, Texas, also noted that opponents of NAFTA talk about “yuge” economic impacts, a pronunciation of “huge” for which Trump is noted.
In another statement that seemed to refer to Trump’s background as a negotiator, Stallman said that business negotiations “divide up the dollars,” but in trade, “you are dealing with sovereign nations … all the political dynamics that exist. … It is a lot more complex negotiation.”
In a trade negotiation, if one country says, “It is my way or the highway, the other country won’t accept that,” he said.
Stallman said he hopes that Trump does not withdraw from NAFTA or engage in a “tit for tat” exchange that escalates into a trade war.
Stallman and the other panelists — Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers, and Melissa San Miguel, senior director of global strategies for the Grocery Manufacturers Association — all said NAFTA has largely been a success. The best scenario, they said, would be a negotiation to modernize NAFTA to cover issues such as intellectual property that were not covered in the original agreement.
POSITIVE FOR AG
For agriculture, Stallman said, NAFTA has been “extremely positive. … Don’t do a wholesale renegotiation, and don’t go backwards.”
Asked about Trump’s tweets criticizing Canada’s dairy policy and the imposition of tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber, Stallman noted that both those issues have been around for decades.
In order to create the circumstances under which NAFTA could be modernized rather than damaged, Stallman said, agriculture needs to “make a better case” on the benefits of agricultural trade to the American public, not just to Congress and the administration.
Asked whether agriculture’s communication problem on trade is similar to industrial agriculture’s problems in communicating about genetic modification and lean, finely textured beef known as pink slime, Stallman said that the comparison is “partially valid,” although those issues were food-related, while trade is about jobs.
Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, who was in the audience, asked Stallman what his tweet would be in response to tweets such as the president’s on the “horrors of trade.”
“That is the $64 or $64 million question,” Stallman said. “I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what you can put in a tweet.”
After the event, Stallman acknowledged that farmers had voted for Trump, and like him and his agenda on deregulation. But Stallman said that if Trump’s trade actions threaten U.S. farm exports and the farm economy, the farmers will at some point have to threaten not to support him for re-election.