Ag Lobbies Stress President Trump Can Reach New NAFTA Deal Without Withdrawal Threats

Source: By Chris Clayton, DTN/Progressive Farmer • Posted: Friday, January 19, 2018

A new coalition of agricultural business lobbies has come together to educate Congress and President Donald Trump about the importance of NAFTA to agriculture. (Graphic by Alex Covarrubias)
A new coalition of agricultural business lobbies has come together to educate Congress and President Donald Trump about the importance of NAFTA to agriculture. (Graphic by Alex Covarrubias)

OMAHA (DTN) — Fearful about the prospect of seeing NAFTA derailed, more than 30 ag-related business groups have come together to create Americans for Farmers & Families, a coalition focused on stressing the importance of the free-trade agreement to President Donald Trump, his administration and Congress.

The groups represent general farm organizations and a broad array of commodity groups and lobby organizations up and down the food supply chain, from bakers to distillers to the rail industry.

Americans for Farmers & Families highlights that the North American Free Trade Agreement is an economic engine in rural America — “the very same communities that powered President Trump to victory in 2016.”

The new coalition builds on similar groups that also have cropped up to defend NAFTA, such as Farmers for Free Trade, which made a major push to highlight the importance of NAFTA last week at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

A round of NAFTA talks begin next week in Montreal, which will be the sixth round of official discussions between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Americans for Farmers & Families calls for preserving but modernizing NAFTA and cautions against any attempts by the Trump administration to withdraw from the 24-year-old trade pact. Since NAFTA began, the coalition points out, U.S. food and agricultural exports have more than quadrupled and account for 25% of American exports. Essentially, one in every 10 acres of American crops is exported to Canada or Mexico.

“Farm Belt voters supported President Trump by a three-to-one margin in the last election, and they are counting on President Trump to improve NAFTA in the modernization negotiations,” said John Bode, president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association and a member of the Americans for Farmers & Families leadership team. “It’s not an exaggeration to say many farmers are still farming today because of NAFTA. We know that President Trump has a lot of experience negotiating good deals. We support him in updating and improving NAFTA.”

Americans for Farmers & Families intends to launch “a robust educational campaign to highlight the positive impact NAFTA achieves for hard-working Americans” and focus on updating the trade deal.

“We look forward to being active participants in this discussion as we ensure the growers, producers, processors, transporters retailers and consumers we represent have their voices heard,” added Chris Novak, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association and another member of the Americans for Farmers & Families leadership committee. “This issue is simply too important for us to sit on the sidelines.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Council, were also quoted in the news release announcing the formation of Americans for Farmers & Families. “Canada and Mexico represent the second and third largest markets for U.S. agriculture,” Dierks said. “A modernized NAFTA is critical to the prosperity of rural America.”

Last week, the American Farm Bureau highlighted some of the largest commodity exports to NAFTA countries and the percentage of those exports for each state in the continental 48 states. (…)

The formation of the new group comes just after the global firm Oxford Economics released a study stating that scrapping NAFTA would create a short-term dip in the U.S. economy by lowering gross domestic product in 2019, increase inflation on consumers and cost the U.S. as many as 300,000 jobs.

Farmers and lawmakers have been increasingly concerned President Trump will invoke a NAFTA clause seeking to withdraw from the trade deal within six months even though Congress would need to officially take action to withdraw from the trade deal to make it an official action by the U.S. Still, some analysts see a withdrawal announcement as a way to gain some leverage to get a deal done quickly.

Politics are also quickly encroaching on the NAFTA talks. The Mexican presidential election will be held in July, followed by U.S. congressional mid-term elections next fall. Trump told the Wall Street Journal last week he would be flexible about any withdraw plans because of the Mexican election.

“I understand that a lot of things are hard to negotiate prior to an election,” the president told the Wall Street Journal.

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