Ag News

U.S., Canadian ag officials discuss NAFTA

With the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pending on the horizon, American Farm Bureau Convention attendees had the chance to hear from Canadian Minister of Agriculture (CMA) Lawrence MacAulay and USDA Undersecretary for Trade & Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney.

MacAulay made history by becoming the first CMA to address the annual AFBF convention when he spoke at the opening session of the convention.

“The closer the U.S. and Canada work together to address common challenges, the more we can grow our economies,” MacAulay said. “No two nations depend on each other for economic prosperity more than the U.S. and Canada.”      

MacAulay stressed the importance NAFTA played in the economic success to agriculture in Canada & the U.S.

“Last year more than $47 billion of agriculture products crossed over our borders,” MacAulay said.                                                                                                                   

He conceded NAFTA could stand to be updated as it has been numerous times in the past 23 years since it was implemented in 1994.                                                                         

“If we grow our trade relationships we grow our trade together. Since 1994 trade among NAFTA partners has tripled,” MacAulay.                                                                                         

Since 1994 agriculture and food exports from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico have quadrupled.

Regarding NAFTA renegotiation, MacAulay said the main objective is to do no harm to agriculture. “Can NAFTA be updated? Of course. But it’s like an old tractor in the barn. We can make it better, but let’s not destroy the tractor.”                                              

MacAulay also spoke of his visit to Georgia last year where he visited a Vidalia Onion farm and toured the Port of Savannah.                                                              

Speaking during a workshop at the AFBF convention, Ted McKinney, undersecretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs for the USDA, said NAFTA negotiations are the most important project that the United States has right now.     He compared NAFTA negotiations to a Sumo wrestling match. He said there is a lot of posturing in the circle, but he is hopeful that the United States, Canada and Mexico will meet in the middle and find some agreement in the next round of trade negotiations.                             

Dairy is the biggest issue facing the agricultural side of NAFTA negotiations, McKinney said. Last year, Canada moved forward with a new class of milk that virtually shut out American-made ultra filtered milk. He said that action took U.S. dairy farmers over the top.

“Dairy is the big deal. Every dairy organization has written, phoned or been in my office. It is the itch that needs to be scratched and the elephant in the room,” McKinney said.

McKinney also discussed a list of other potential trade opportunities for American farmers including Japan, China, Britain, Vietnam and India. He is looking to get free trade agreements that will open up new markets for American products, especially in expanding economies where growing middle classes are wanting to buy more protein like meat and dairy. He said opening new markets helps spread the risk if other trade agreements get bumpy.