Farmers can ‘relax, breathe deeply’

TORONTO — The United States doesn’t see big problems with U.S.-Canada agricultural trade, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

But there are issues it wants to resolve.

“I think there are just a very few issues that we’ll have on the table regarding agricultural issues with Canada, that I believe we can resolve with good faith,” said Perdue in an exclusive interview with The Western Producer.

“I think producers on both sides of the border have benefitted and I think consumers on both sides of the border have benefitted.”

Perdue said Canadian farmers can “relax, breathe deeply and we’re all going to be fine” generally speaking, when it comes to North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation.

However, the U.S.’s outstanding issues will be raised, including:

  • Dairy: the U.S. wants to ensure Canadian supply management does not get used as a way to allow Canada to produce dairy surpluses it dumps on the world market.
  • Wheat grading: U.S. northern plains farmers should have their wheat treated fairly when delivered to a Canadian elevator, rather than being downgraded to feed simply because of its origin or other regulatory technicalities.
  • Wine: U.S. wine should not be segregated or otherwise be treated differently by provincial wine retailing regulations compared to Canadian wine.

Dairy appears to be the subject of greatest concern or frustration for Perdue.

Americans view the new pricing regimes being undertaken by Canadian dairy authorities as a “sort of circumvention of the issue that we dealt with” when previously dealing with milk protein products, which were not covered by NAFTA.

However, Perdue was generally effusive in his praise of the Canada-U.S. trading relationship, likening it to “a family matter.” Differences can be worked out amicably, he said.

Earlier in the day, he and a close political friend, former Quebec premier and former senior Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Jean Charest, lauded the Canada-U.S. relationship, with Charest describing it as being like a wonderful neighbourhood to live in, compared to the rest of the world.

“The relationship is easily taken for granted,” said Charest during the Southeastern United States Canadian Provinces Alliance (SEUSCP) annual conference, this year held in Toronto.

Perdue reflected this view, noting the close co-operation of Canadian and U.S. officials in areas like agriculture research and food safety.

Perdue was credited by Charest as the driving force that got the SEUSCP going, bringing together the leaders of southeastern U.S. states and eastern Canadian provinces into a forum in which they try to boost trade and investment.

While many see U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration as playing with protectionist sentiments, Perdue seems to follow the opposite tack, viewing free and fair trade as enriching all its partners.

In the interview, he said Trump should not be seen as a protectionist, but as somebody bothered by the loss of American jobs in unbalanced trading relationships.

Perdue noted that Canada and the U.S. are roughly balanced in trade and agriculture trade, so Canada is not seen as the source of American problems.

“We know that not many jobs have left the United States and gone to Canada, but jobs have left the United States and gone south,” said Perdue.

However, even with concern about overall job losses to Mexico, Perdue said that doesn’t necessarily apply to agriculture.

“From an agricultural perspective he also understands it’s been good for all three countries.”

When the NAFTA renegotiation is complete, and Perdue said it is not a question of “if,” he hopes to be able to partner with Canada to develop better trading relations around the world, with the U.S. as likely to play the silent partner as the lead.

“Oftentimes (Canada) can be a great, trusted referee on world markets where maybe we would appear heavy-handed,” said Perdue.

“If Canada steps up we can ride along on the coattails.”

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