Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on Tuesday urged President Donald Trump not to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and criticized Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., for putting a hold on Trump’s nomination of Greg Doud to be chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
“Don’t start the clock on termination. That sends a lot of signals we don’t need to be sending,” Roberts said at a Washington International Trade Association event with former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Roberts said American farmers need to sell their products now, and that withdrawing from NAFTA would add to farmers’ demands that farm bill benefits be increased at a time when Congress does not have the money for that.
Roberts also said that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations was “most unfortunate.”
Noting that he had met with the president four times, Roberts said he had pointed out that farmers voted for Trump “due to the regulatory overkill they were feeling.”
Roberts said he told Trump, “I know you feel the Rust Belt came to your side, but these are your people as well.”
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Roberts said he hoped he made progress with the president, but “it remains to be seen.”
He said he opposes proposals to rewrite NAFTA every five years.
Roberts also said he opposes the hold that Flake has placed on Doud’s nomination over the Trump administration’s proposal to allow Florida tomato growers to use trade remedy laws against surges of Mexican imports.
Flake maintains that the proposal will hurt the integrated Arizona-Mexican produce industry.
Roberts said Flake’s hold has nothing to do with Doud, adding that he believes there should be a relationship between a hold and what a senator wants to achieve.
“We are working on it,” he added.
Baucus, who was launching the Farmers for Free Trade group that he is co-chairing with former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said people need to find ways to inform the president on some issues. Baucus said Trump doesn’t know a lot about trade, government or other countries, and needs to be educated “on what makes sense for the country.”
He acknowledged that Trump makes statements to please his base, but said his actions do not always match his rhetoric.
“Hopefully he can do what is best for the country even while he talks to his base,” Baucus said.
Baucus emphasized that his effort with Lugar to get farmers and state and local officials to defend NAFTA is bipartisan, and added that “cows and pigs are not Republicans or Democrats — they just want to get shipped overseas.”
Grant Aldonas, a former Capitol Hill aide and State Department official, said that the “whole supply chain” of people in agriculture needs to speak with one voice in defense of trade.
Aldonas said he is “guessing” that Trump wants to be a success with bilateral negotiations, and that the first sign of success should be NAFTA.
Noting that he was in London last week, Aldonas said the British want to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United States, but are looking at NAFTA to see if that is completed successfully.
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