Monday, May 22, 2017

Farm lobbies seek protection in NAFTA talks, and get help from Trump's agriculture secretary

USDA graphic
Lawmakers and commodity groups have asked the Trump administration "to do no harm to current areas and industries where trade and the economic impacts are positive" when it begins renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "In mid-July, the White House will release that summary of specifics for a new NAFTA. It is possible negotiations between the three countries could start as early as Aug. 16."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who last month was able to talk President Trump into renegotiating NAFTA rather than withdrawing from it, is a big supporter of trade. He went against Trump's anti-trade sentiments last week by publishing "Trade: An Economic Engine for Agriculture and Rural America."

Jason Hafemeister, acting deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, posted on USDA's website: "When American farmers are financially healthy, they not only support themselves and their families, but also their employees, local equipment dealers, farm service suppliers and the rural communities where they live and do business. In 2015, U.S. farms produced more than $425 billion in gross output and purchased more than $225 billion in inputs. That has a big impact on rural America and also the national economy. In 2015, 21 million full- and part-time jobs, or 11 percent of total U.S. employment, were related to the agricultural and food sectors."

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, said renegotiating NAFTA is an opportunity "to reset that agenda by instituting a new, fair trade framework that works for family farmers, ranchers, and rural residents," Clayton writes. He said the agency urges the Trump administration to renegotiate NAFTA "in a fashion that does not upset the positive trade relations the U.S. agriculture community relies upon."

The National Milk Producers Federation, the Dairy Export Council (headed by former Secretary Tom Vilsack) and Dairy Foods Association "stressed the importance of renegotiating NAFTA to deal with problems the industry is facing with slowing exports to Canada because of a change in Canadian milk-pricing policies," Clayton writes. "The groups noted U.S. dairy products can face 200 percent to 300 percent tariffs and policies that distort dairy."

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the group will "remain committed to the goal of a positive, market-expanding and modernized NAFTA," Clayton writes. Others, such as the National Pork Producers Council, U.S. Wheat Associates, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, U.S. Grains Council, and USA Rice have all expressed the importance of protecting trade agreements.

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