Current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations are a lot like a Sumo wrestling match, according to Ted McKinney, under secretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs for the Agriculture Department. He said there is an extraordinary amount of posturing in the circle, but he is hopeful that the United States, Canada and Mexico will meet in the middle and find some agreement in the next round of trade negotiations.
McKinney spoke to Farm Bureau members at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show. He addressed a host of trade issues around the country, but said NAFTA is the most important project that the United States has right now.
“Let’s not blow up NAFTA, but that doesn’t mean that changes shouldn’t be made,” said McKinney. “Good friendships don’t mean that you don’t have hard conversations to right-size agreements that may be 20 years old.”
McKinney said dairy is the biggest issue facing the agricultural end of NAFTA negotiations. Last year, Canada moved forward with a new class of milk that virtually shut out American-made ultra filtered milk. He said that issue took farmers over the top.
“Dairy is the big deal. Every dairy organization has written, phoned or been in my office. It is the itch that needs to be scratched and the elephant in the room,” he said.
McKinney also ran down a list of other potential trade opportunities for American farmers including Japan, China, Britain, Vietnam and India. With each of those come challenges, but he is looking to get free trade agreements that will open up new markets for American products, especially in expanding economies where growing middle classes are wanting to buy more protein like meat and dairy. He said opening new markets also helps to spread the risk if other trade agreements get bumpy.
He admitted one of the toughest markets right now is the European Union. He was critical of the EU’s response to biotechnology and its attempt to label glyphosate as a carcinogen when it has been scientifically proven to be one of the safest products used by farmers and consumers alike.
“Stop playing politics,” he said. “The shenanigans have got to stop.”
To support the trade movement, he encouraged Farm Bureau members to share their stories on things like the need for free trade, the safety of GMOs, and why you need certain products to farm. He says speaking to local community members is just as important as writing a letter to your governor and congressional leaders.
“It may help turn this NAFTA thing around a little bit. Without your voice, it is not going to work,” said McKinney.
In the end, he summed up how important our neighbors are to the United States and believes if all sides work in good faith, NAFTA will get resolved.
“I’m a huge fan of our Canadian friends. I love Canada, but Canada, it is time to step forward,” said McKinney. “I think we can get there because of the importance of the relationship.”