Former U.S. NAFTA negotiator worries about ag trade future

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An uncertain trade environment could have considerable ramifications for agriculture in the United States.


U.S. President Donald Trump has announced plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S. has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 


NAFTA has been very positive for U.S. agriculture. Movement of agricultural goods between the U.S., Canada and Mexico went from $10.4 billion in 1993 to nearly $46 billion in 2016 to Mexico and Canada, said Darci Vetter, chief agriculture negotiator for the office of the U.S. trade representative from 2014-17.


“Our infrastructure is built to deliver products into that integrated North American marketplace,” she said at the annual meeting of the National Institute of Animal Agriculture held in Columbus April 4-7.


“Livestock more than any other industry relies on a variety of export markets to sell the varied products we produce,” Vetter said.


“Trade is the way we add value to every part of the animal we produce and we can send it to the place that wants it most,” she said.


Potential changes to NAFTA could mean tariff barriers, loss of goodwill and break down of infrastructure, she said.


ADVERTISMENT

The U.S. has 14 free trade agreements with 20 countries. 


After pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which involves 12 countries, Trump’s administration is considering seeking bilateral trade agreements instead.


“It is frankly unclear at this point how this administration plans to use those tools and what the international trade agenda would look like. The next several months are critical,” she said. 


The TPP would have given the U.S. prime access to consumers in Asia. 


The TPP offered wider liberalization, high standards of rule making and a commitment to risk analysis that would knock down some non-tariff barriers like sanitary and phytosanitary rules. Some of these rules to protect animal and plant health are reasonable but other times they are put in place to stall trade, said Vetter.


Agriculture is commonly protected in many existing agreements but under the TPP, countries like Canada were willing to provide more access in poultry, eggs and dairy. 


ADVERTISMENT

Japan’s six sacred products — beef, pork, wheat, rice, dairy and sugar — were also about to be liberalized. 


The current U.S. administration has noted the Asia Pacific market is important but it does not believe the regional TPP model was the best way to go. Separate deals with each country is preferred, but it is not clear which countries will be approached first, said Vetter. 


Under a Trump presidency, the agriculture sector may have to speak up for itself to ensure it remains competitive. 


“Remind your customers that you view them as long-term partners,.”


She suggested approaching agriculture and trade officials in their countries to strengthen partnerships.


Agriculture representatives also need to talk directly to the U.S. government to make their interests known. 


ADVERTISMENT

“If there is a consistent voice for the importance of trade for you as agriculture, no matter who is at that table, that will come to benefit you,” she said.