Some in Washington are calling this “NAFTA Week,” because the administration just yesterday came out with its objectives for the NAFTA renegotiation effort. The American Farm Bureau’s goal has been primarily to maintain the good, reciprocal market access we have today for agricultural products that U.S. farmers and ranchers export to Canada and Mexico. We were glad to see that listed as the top objective in the agricultural section of the administration’s plan.
The plan also lists other goals we’ve outlined, including eliminating non-tariff barriers to U.S. agricultural exports, providing adjustment periods for our import sensitive agricultural products, and enhancing regulatory compatibility. The objectives also include creating a process to resolve trade barriers erected in the name of protecting animal, plant or human health—so-called sanitary and phytosanitary measures—but that are not necessary and are damaging to fair and open trade.
I’ll admit that when talk of renegotiating NAFTA first began, many of us in agriculture were nervous about rocking the boat. NAFTA isn’t perfect, but it has been very beneficial for the majority of U.S. agricultural products and the farmers who grow them. Our exports to Canada and Mexico have quadrupled from $8.9 billion in 1993, when NAFTA entered into force, to $38 billion in 2016. So we wanted to make sure we did not lose the progress we have made. However, NAFTA is 23 years old now. Just like our farm machinery, it needs to be updated. Things have changed since 1993. For example, when NAFTA was negotiated biotech crops were just starting to come to market.
A lot of work remains ahead of us. Canada and Mexico will have their own negotiating objectives, which may or may not be compatible with ours. But the objectives outlined by the administration this week assure those of us in agriculture that the president and his trade team will work to fulfill a promise he made to farmers and ranchers: to keep the gains we have made so far, and to make agricultural trade even better in the future.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.