By Zippy Duvall
Agriculture will be front and center in the recently launched North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations. Trade agreements have a good track record of opening international markets for U.S.-grown products by breaking down trade barriers and reducing tariffs that keep America’s farmers and ranchers from reaching new customers around the world.
NAFTA has been no exception. Annual ag exports to Canada and Mexico soared from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.1 billion in 2016. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
Renegotiation is an opportunity to make this trade deal even better. The American Farm Bureau Federation is working closely with Congress, the White House and government agencies so they know what our priorities for NAFTA are, and what we need to make them happen. We are eager for U.S. trade negotiators to take a seat at the table and are confident they will represent the needs of America’s farmers and ranchers. In fact, President Trump has committed to farmers and ranchers that a renegotiated NAFTA will make U.S. agricultural trade even better than it has been these last 24 years.
We are glad to see that continued market access remains the top objective for agriculture in the administration’s NAFTA strategy. Even though NAFTA has been positive for agriculture as a whole, there are individual commodities or ag sectors facing trade challenges with our neighboring countries. An updated agreement needs to resolve disputes over fresh produce and horticultural products with Mexico. It should also reduce or eliminate tariffs on dairy, poultry, and eggs in Canada. A truly modernized NAFTA will use science-based rules that prevent and resolve unfair trade barriers allegedly erected in the name of protecting animal, plant or human health.
International trade has given farmers and ranchers partnerships and business relationships with people all over the world. The boost in business abroad bolsters our industry and creates more jobs here at home. Successful trade agreements benefit all parties involved by setting the highest standard of trade rules and improving competitiveness. AFBF together with Canada’s and Mexico’s largest farm organizations all agree that NAFTA has been a huge success for North American agriculture. We even sent a joint letter to our respective governments stressing the importance of NAFTA to the farm economy in all three countries.
We want to see the U.S. and our trade partners become global leaders in setting market-driven and science-based terms for trade. To that end, AFBF has the distinct honor of hosting the 38th biennial North American and European Union Agricultural Conference this fall. Hosting such a prestigious global event here in Washington, D.C., gives us an opportunity to build lasting relationships and friendships to help further opportunities for U.S. agriculture in the global market.
Free trade, while positive, also can be disruptive. It rejiggers markets once thought to be predictable. It might even lead us to change what we grow. But one thing it almost always does is give America’s highly productive and efficient farmers and ranchers an edge in the global economy. It reflects one of the most positive aspects of farmers the world over: our ability to come together and find strength in our differences. It drives growth in our industry and expands access to safe and sustainable products at home and abroad.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.