Ag Policy Blog

Trade Talk Moves to State of the Union

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

As the latest round of North American Free Trade Agreement talks came to an end Monday in Montreal and President Donald Trump said trade will be an important topic in his state-of-the-union speech Tuesday, two farm groups with representatives in Montreal issued differing statements.

The NAFTA round ended with Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal making separate statements rather than a joint statement.

They noted that the chapter on corruption had been closed and that progress had been made on other chapters, including food safety. But Lighthizer told reporters that Trump has not ended his threat to withdraw from the agreement.

“I don’t think the president’s view has changed at all. His view is if we can get a good agreement, we should have one,” Lighthizer told reporters, according to Politico. Currently, “it’s really not a good agreement for the United States.”

Lighthizer started out by recalling bringing his wife and children to Mont Tremblant to learn to ski.

“I always thought that Quebec has the greatest motto anywhere: “Je me souviens [I remember].” It is a perfect comment on history, culture, and even the future. I think it is a perceptive motto for a trade negotiator. Maybe we’ll put it up at USTR — “Je me souviens.” You can see it when you walk in.”

But Lighthizer then launched into a series of complaints about Canada’s trade relationship with the United States.

Jaime Castaneda, who represented the U.S. dairy industry in Montreal, said in an email, “Our view is that there are many issues that need to be fixed about Canada; and although not explicitly mentioned by Ambassador Lighthizer, we know that dairy is front and center on his deliberations.“

“We are optimistic that NAFTA will be successfully renegotiated keeping all the benefits that agriculture currently enjoys, while addressing what needs to be fixed,” Castaneda said.

Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, the bipartisan campaign to restore support for agricultural trade, said in a news release, “Uncertainty in NAFTA negotiations is creating uncertainty for American farmers. As we head into planting season, farmers need the confidence that exports to America’s two most important agricultural export markets will remain viable. While it’s heartening to know that progress was made and compromises were proposed in Montreal, it’s also clear that these negotiations could last longer than anticipated.”

“The potential for NAFTA withdrawal to now remain an option into 2019 is a major concern,” Kuehl said. “It’s time to remove the cloud of withdrawal so that farmers and ranchers have the certainty they deserve while NAFTA is being modernized.”

Another round is expected to take place in Mexico in March.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Trump told White House reporters that his state-of-the-union speech Tuesday is “going to be I think a very important speech on trade. The world has taken advantage of us on trade for many years, and as you probably noticed we’re stopping that, and we’re stopping it cold and we have to, we have to have reciprocal trade. It’s not a one-way deal anymore.”

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