Farm leaders confident heading into NAFTA talks

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canadian farmers say their industry appears to be in a good position heading into NAFTA renegotiations even though the United States has targeted dairy, wheat and wine.


The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the country’s agriculture ministers, both in St. John’s for summer meetings, heard from federal officials that they still need more details on exactly what the U.S. wants to negotiate during an overhaul of the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.


But they expressed confidence in Canadian negotiators.


“The feds are very good at trade negotiations,” said Saskatchewan minister Lyle Stewart. “We just urge vigilance and some hard bargaining when it comes to it around the table and we’ll continue to work with the federal government on NAFTA, as well as all manner of other trade issues around the world.”


Ministers and industry stakeholders attending a roundtable hosted by the CFA heard from Frederic Seppey, Canada’s chief agricultural negotiator, that there are time constraints due to 2018 elections in Mexico and the U.S. midterms that will likely move the agenda along quite quickly.


Earlier the U.S. named dairy, wheat grading and wine regulations as concerns.


“There’s lots of rhetoric but not a lot of detail at this point,” said CFA president Ron Bonnett.


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Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay pledged support for all farmers through the talks.


“I’m not the official trade negotiator,” he said. “But without a doubt we will make sure that we have capable trade negotiators in agriculture and in the trade department who will handle these issues very capably.” 


The ministers at their meeting reiterated their support for supply management while working with the federal government on NAFTA modernization and other trade opportunities.


CFA second vice-president Marcel Groleau, a Quebec dairy farmer, said that support seems stronger than ever.


“I think the message to the U.S. negotiator is very clear from Canada, I would say more clear this time than in any other negotiation we have had before,” he said.


Groleau said the U.S. knows its issue with surplus milk won’t be solved by better access to Canada.


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“The U.S. has also its own commodities that they are protecting like sugar and peanuts,” he said. “We import in Canada eight percent of our dairy consumption. (The) U.S. imports less than two percent. So our market is not totally closed.”


The CFA board met with American Farm Bureau vice-president Scott Vanderwal while in St. John’s.


“While there might be a few things we differed on with respect to the negotiation, I think there was a common theme of do no harm,” said Bonnett. “Things are actually working pretty good.”


CFA executive director Errol Halkett said Canada has balanced trade with the U.S. in its favour; President Donald Trump often complains about trade deficits. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is a strong advocate of freer trade, he added.


The first round of negotiations begins Aug. 16.


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