Trump’s agenda sends beef sector on rocky road

LONDON, Ont. — North American beef producers are feeling the bumps and bruises as trade talks linger.

The Canadian, American and Mexican beef sectors generally agree that the North American Free Trade Agreement is a good deal and they don’t want to see it disappear.

However, the trade polices of U.S. President Donald Trump are creating uncertainty within the agriculture sector, said Kent Bacus, policy manager of the U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“It has been a bumpy road for all of us. We have strongly opposed the administration’s move to withdraw from NAFTA,” he said at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association foreign trade meeting held during the Aug. 14-17 Canadian beef industry conference in London.

However, there are factions in the U.S. that believe current trade agreements have not benefitted them.

Past administrations sought to negotiate a win-win for all partners but Trump is taking a harder-line protectionist approach to bring trading partners in line.

“This new approach has really shaken things up and it has created a lot of uncertainty within the agriculture industry and with our trading partners. We don’t necessarily understand the logic of going after Canada, considering the positive trade balance we have with Canada in both goods and service,” he said

“That is the reality that we face. This administration is going after the European Union, going after China and going after a lot of other countries that have taken advantage of their relationship with the United States for far too long,” he said.

If solutions can be found on rules of origin for parts in the auto sector and resolutions on labour disputes with Mexico, as well as the five-year sunset clause proposal from the U.S., perhaps an agreement could happen early next year.

The NCBA has lobbied to keep NAFTA because Mexico and Canada are good markets for the U.S. However, it understands new approaches are needed in dealing with other potential trading partners.

“There are bad actors that are out there and we have to approach them and pursue some sort of resolution before we can continue to capitulate,” he said.

The ongoing European ban on growth-promoting hormones used in beef production is an example, he said. The practice has been ruled safe and it has become a non-tariff barrier to keep U.S. and Canadian beef out of Europe. Other countries could adopt the same barriers, he said.

Mexico also wants the deal to proceed as a trilateral arrangement, said Andres Piedra, director of economic studies and international trade for the National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.

Mexico had a strong trade in live cattle to the U.S. but if NAFTA fails, Mexico may have to look for alternative arrangements with other countries, he said through an interpreter.

There have been seven formal rounds of NAFTA negotiations so far and Washington and Mexico reached an agreement last weekend.

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