U.S. farm leader advises against hasty NAFTA talks

Past-president of pork producers group says immigration and taxation must be dealt with first

The numbers are big when it comes to trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, but a farm leader says more goes into a trade deal than just dollars and cents


by Robert Arnason, The Western Producer (Canada)          

Jun. 15th, 2017


DES MOINES, Iowa — Negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement could begin as early as August, and many people in the ag industry are hoping a new deal gets done quickly.


However, the past-president of the U.S. National Pork Producers Council said pushing ahead with NAFTA re-negotiations is unwise because other policy issues should be dealt with first.


John Weber said U.S. immigration is at the top of that list, and if it isn’t resolved first, it might be difficult to negotiate with Mexico on trade.


Weber, who served as NPCC president in 2016-17, met with representatives of Mexico’s pork industry last September. The tone of the meeting was negative.


“All they wanted to talk about was how stupid the wall concept was and you don’t degrade our people as being thieves and crooks,” Weber said in an interview at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines June 8.


“We offended that country…. How can you sit down at a table with those folks and (renegotiate) NAFTA when these other issues haven’t been addressed?”


On May 17, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration notified Congress of its plans to renegotiate NAFTA. The letter triggered a 90-day consultation period with members of Congress, meaning negotiations could begin mid-August at the earliest.


Many U.S. commodity groups, including corn growers, cattle producers and pork producers, have been issuing news releases, seemingly every day this spring, to remind Trump about the importance of NAFTA and ag exports to the U.S. economy.


NPPC data shows that the U.S. exported $38 billion in agriculture products to Mexico and Canada in 2016.


In early June, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Trump isn’t a trade protectionist and that the president is aware of the benefits of NAFTA.


“From an agricultural perspective, he also understands it’s been good for all three countries,” Perdue said.


The export numbers are large, but free trade deals are also about the free movement of people. Negotiations become much more difficult if Trump is determined to build a wall at the Mexican border and kick millions of immigrants out of the United States.


“I don’t think a lot of ag people understand that,” said Weber, who added he was speaking for himself rather than for the council...