State officials: NAFTA talk may alienate Mexicans, Canadians
SPOKANE, Wash. — The negative comments by President Donald Trump and members of his administration about the North American Free Trade Agreement may alienate consumers in two of the biggest markets for U.S. agricultural products, the director of the Washington state Agriculture Department said in Spokane, Wash., late last week.
There is the “potential that we are alienating the average consumer in Mexico and Canada,” said Derek Sandison, an appointee of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, during a panel discussion Nov. 9 at the convention of the Washington, Oregon and Idaho Tri-State Grain Growers.
Sandison added that Canada is the biggest buyer of Washington state agriculture products and Mexico is an important customer. There are “lots of suppliers” of agriculture and food products, Sandison said, adding “We have got to bring back stability to trade.”
“All three nations have benefited from the agriculture of NAFTA,” Sandison said. “We’ve got to make sure that the message gets across of what the tremendous downside there would be if it is terminated.”
After the formal program, Sandison told The Hagstrom Report that when he meets with Canadian and Mexican officials and business leaders he can sense their “anger,” and he fears that this attitude “translates to the general public.”
Ending up with “the best NAFTA agreement in the world” would not be good if it turns off the general public in Mexico and Canada, he said.
Sandison said he has worked with both Mexican and Canadian officials to make sure they realize that Washington state still wants to do business with their countries.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement “has caused a lot of problems with Asian countries,” Sandison said. The notion that the United States is going to replace TPP with bilateral agreements “does not seem to be working out,” he added.
Also on the panel were Alexis Taylor, who was appointed director of the Oregon Agriculture Department in December by Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, after serving as a high-level appointee at the Agriculture Department in the Obama administration, and Brian Oakey, the deputy director of the Idaho Agriculture Department, who was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican.
Taylor said that some industries in Oregon want improvements to NAFTA “but not at the cost of the entire agreement.”
Taylor noted that she also has participated in trade missions to sell her state’s products, but said that federal policy is vital because only national government negotiators can determine tariff levels and sanitary and phytosanitary agreements.
“We as states can do a lot to help building relationships but we need federal (policy),” Taylor said.
Oakey also said it is “so important to have face-to-face interactions,” and noted that a Canadian consul general had recently been in Idaho to talk about what would happen if the United States pulls out of NAFTA.
Sandison and Taylor said that they both work hard to try to overcome the disconnect between farmers and the populous urban areas that dominate Washington and Oregon politics.
Taylor noted that the issue is not just the urban-rural divide, but the movement of urban people who know nothing about farming to rural areas.
“Farming can be loud, smelly and slow down traffic,” she said. “For people who have not grown up there, it’s all new.”
Taylor noted that the Oregon state government has started a campaign to urge people not to pass tractors on the roads.
Oakey noted that the political climate is different in Republican-dominated Idaho, but said he and other state officials watch Washington and Oregon to see what issues “might migrate in our direction.”
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB 21-87, known as the Farm Workers Bill of Rights, though much of the content will be decided through the rulemaking process.