Agricultural leaders demand delicate touch to any potential NAFTA changes

Agricultural leaders demand delicate touch to any potential changes

OTTAWA — Major agricultural federations are urging NAFTA’s negotiators to skip the continent’s farms and ranches if they’re looking for sectors in need of a makeover.

The demand Wednesday for a “do no harm” approach to agricultural provisions in the deal was part of a joint message from leaders representing the industries in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

They agreed if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

“We’ve got something that’s working — don’t do something in the negotiations that’s going to undermine that,” Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, told reporters in a joint conference call from Washington.

“Because that’s going to undermine not only farmers and ranchers, but also all of the jobs that are related to farming and ranching in all three countries.”

Bonnett, along with his counterparts from the U.S. and Mexico, made the plea on the opening day of NAFTA’s renegotiation.

They delivered their message after U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer’s announced the Trump administration would seek major changes to the deal — not mere tweaks.

But the agricultural leaders were pleased to hear Lighthizer single out U.S. farmers and ranchers among those who have benefited from NAFTA.

“This has been a good trade treaty for North American agriculture from Mexico to Canada and we want to make sure that we have our voice heard loud and clear,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Duvall also warned that negotiators should avoid swapping any U.S. gains in agriculture in order to boost other business sectors.

Despite their hands-off instructions, they listed several ways NAFTA 2.0 could further boost ag-related trade volumes. The recommendations include: further regulatory harmonization, easing cross-border flows and updated provisions to adapt to technological innovations.

Duvall noted the three countries are bound to disagree during the talks on agricultural issues, but with much at stake he stressed they should enter bargaining “with cool heads” and focus on shared goals.

One disputed area that could erupt into a much-bigger NAFTA fight is Canada’s supply-managed dairy sector.

“I think we could all identify areas where we could create friction,” Bonnett said when asked about the system that maintains import limits and price controls on dairy and poultry products.

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