MacAulay talks up NAFTA at U.S. farm group meeting

Federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay pressed upon members of the American Farm Bureau Federation of the need to retain the North American Free Trade Agreement at the bureau’s annual meeting earlier this week.

He found a like-minded audience.

Speaking to Canadian reporters by conference call a day after his speech in Nashville, and hours before United States President Donald Trump was to address the meeting, MacAulay said Trump would find an audience that would suffer if NAFTA is torn up.

“He’s coming in to speak to thousands of people that are fully in support of NAFTA,” MacAulay said. “They fully understand what NAFTA has done.”

In his speech, the first ever by a Canadian agriculture minister at the powerful U.S. lobby, MacAulay noted that since NAFTA came into effect 23 years ago, trade has rapidly and massively expanded to make the economic region the largest in the world.

“The U.S. trade to Canada and Mexico has quadrupled and with the three countries combined it has tripled,” he told American reporters.

Farmers are business people who understand that value and the jobs that trade has brought, he said, and he hasn’t met with any who don’t support retaining NAFTA with some modernization.

“We’re very optimistic, understanding what we hear across North America,” the minister said. “We do not want to damper any possibility that these trade talks will be successful.”

Canada’s supply management system, particularly for dairy, has been a concern in the U.S., but MacAulay said American farmers asked him how they could make their system better, not how Canada could dismantle its system.

He said all countries have agricultural sectors they want to protect. For some, it’s sugar. In Canada, it’s supply management and that support will continue.

“We import much more dairy products from your country than you import,” he told the Nashville news conference.

Asked if Canada was working on a contingency plan, he said he wouldn’t speculate on what might happen.

“What I’m working for and what I’m doing here is to try and make sure it doesn’t collapse,” he said.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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