U.S., Canadian ag groups optimistic on NAFTA talks

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is adamant that a dispute settlement process is essential to enforce the rules

CALGARY — Canadian agricultural groups have adopted part of the Hippocratic oath in describing their hopes for the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement talks with the United States and Mexico.

First, do no harm.

The opening round of renegotiations on the 23-year-old agreement concluded last week as the three signatory countries outlined their goals for the new version of NAFTA.

At the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary, NAFTA was a frequent topic among presenters and the 600 people in attendance.

“The number one goal is to do no harm,” said Colin Woodall, the senior vice-president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“(NAFTA) is the gold standard for us. Full, unfettered access is as good as it gets. It can’t get any better. And that’s what we have made very clear to this administration.”

The Canadian cattle industry has also made its position clear to the federal government and John Masswohl, government relations vice-president with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said he is optimistic about the outcome of NAFTA talks because the agreement has been mutually beneficial at least to those in the cattle industry.

“NAFTA really is an example of what a trade agreement should be in terms of its market access,” said Masswohl.

“There’s no tariffs. There’s no quotas. There’s none of these safeguards or snapbacks that if somebody starts to become too successful then automatically you’re hit with a higher tariff or some sort of a protection. There’s none of that.”

The dispute settlement process within NAFTA could be a sticking point. Some on the U.S. side have suggested scrapping that mechanism but Canadian foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has said it must be retained and could in fact be a deal-breaker if the three countries cannot agree.

Masswohl said the CCA is clear in its desire for a dispute settlement process. The Canadian beef and pork industries used the World Trade Organization process in their successful fight against country-of-origin labelling, but a NAFTA process is also crucial.

“The CCA would stand very strongly with the Canadian government saying (cancellation of a dispute settlement mechanism), that’s a non-starter for us and if anything, we would try to make that mechanism stronger.”

Masswohl said the entire fight against COOL might have moved more quickly through NAFTA than it did through the WTO, but the Canadian industries weren’t confident about the NAFTA process’s ability to enforce the rules.

An effective way to resolve disputes benefits all parties, said Masswohl, because “you never know which side of a dispute you’re going to be on.”

David Miller, research director with the Iowa Farm Bureau, said NAFTA is vital to hog and cattle producers in his state.

“When I hear President (Donald) Trump talk that NAFTA hasn’t worked for us, what he’s saying is it hasn’t worked maybe as well as it could for the U.S. auto sector or the U.S. auto worker,” said Miller.

“NAFTA’s been very good for U.S. agriculture. It’s been good for U.S.-Canada trade, it’s been good for U.S.-Mexico trade and probably been good for Canada-Mexico trade.

“We want trade to work as well for all sectors of the economy as it does for agriculture. The fact that we’re talking about updating NAFTA doesn’t bother me. Now if we’re talking in order to rebuild protectionism and etc., then that’s not good.”

As NAFTA negotiations got underway last week, major farm groups in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico issued a joint statement emphasizing desires for a modernized agreement rather than a dismantling.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation and Consejo Nacional Agripecuario called NAFTA a success story that has fostered reciprocal trade.

“NAFTA has boosted the incomes of millions of farmers and has facilitated the development of profitable export markets,” said CFA president Ron Bonnett.

The three groups listed their goals for the new version of NAFTA.

  • Increased and improved regulatory alignment.
  • Improved flow of goods at border crossings.
  • Further alignment of sanitary and phytosanitary measures using a science-based approach.
  • Elimination of non-science-based technical barriers to trade.
  • Revisions that reflect technological advances since implementation.

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