By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy
On Aug. 16, 2017, the United States, Mexico and Canada began negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The first round concluded on Aug. 20. It was historic, in the sense that this is the first time the United States has attempted to renegotiate all parts of an existing trade agreement.
The Mexican market is extremely important to U.S. wheat farmers, and duty-free access under NAFTA to U.S. wheat is extremely important to Mexican flour millers. As the top export destination in marketing year 2016/17, Mexico accounted for 12 percent of all U.S. wheat exports. This growth stems without doubt from a successful trade agreement that has provided positive economic opportunity for a growing Mexican middle class that is able to spend more money on products made from U.S. wheat.
It is too early to say what kind of outcome to expect, but U.S. agriculture has been emphatic in its message to “do no harm” in these negotiations to the agricultural industry and its customers. That was reflected in the opening remarks of Ambassador Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, when he acknowledged the importance of NAFTA to U.S. farmers.
However, he also said the agreement had fundamentally failed many parts of the U.S. economy and required major changes. As the negotiations move forward, we will find out what changes will be proposed and acceptable to all three parties — and what tradeoffs will be required.
One change that would benefit wheat farmers and the wheat trade, particularly in northern border states, is a commitment from Canada to treat U.S. wheat farmers equitably when delivering across the border to a Canadian elevator. The current system is a legacy of the old Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, and there is broad recognition that it should be updated to allow reciprocal treatment for U.S. and Canadian farmers.
As these negotiations continue, USW, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and other agricultural organizations will be vigilant in pursuing the interests of the North American food and agriculture supply chains.