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U.S. Trade Representative begins NAFTA hearings

Hearings continue through June 29.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative today began holding public hearings on the upcoming negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Among those testifying June 27: Augustine Tantillo, president and CEO, National Council of Textile Organizations; Kenneth Parker, executive director, Florida Strawberry Growers Association; Dan Shawcroft, American Farm Bureau Federation; Chip Councell, U.S. Grains Council; Pat Binger, a Cargill vice president; Linda Dempsey from the National Association of Manufacturers and a representative from the National Football League.

In his testimony, Chip Councell said concerns about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement have disrupted long-term relationships with customers of U.S. grains and caused concern in farm country.

Councell, who farms on the eastern shore of Maryland, told panelists he's been to Mexico twice this year and helped to host a team of Mexican grain buyers visiting the United States to talk with farmers and policy makers.

"Because our agriculture economies have grown to be so closely intertwined, this trade agreement in particular is critical to my business. The last several months have highlighted how important it is to maintain this strong, stable relationship if we are going to continue to grow," Councell said. 

The U.S. Grains Council has "strong but unconfirmed evidence" Mexico will purchase corn from South America later this year, Councell said. Fearing what might happen to markets, he took a futures position for his entire 2017 corn crop when withdrawal talk began.

"What is happening now in our relationship with Mexican buyers will change how the Mexican industry invests in infrastructure, impact our demand for years to come and impact individual producers like myself financially," he said.

Councell said that rising demand for feed and food has created new opportunities for grain and oilseed exports to Canada and Mexico over the past three decades, which have been tariff-free thanks to NAFTA. Proximity and natural logistical advantages have led to efficiencies and integration on both sides of the border and helped dramatically expand U.S. farmers' exports to Mexico, in particular.

With these successes in mind, Councell urged panelists to ensure negotiators make every effort to do no harm to existing markets and avoid retaliation against U.S. agriculture. He also outlined improvements the U.S. Grains Council would suggest for the agreement, including elements drawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text as well as updated sanitary and phytosanitary, biotechnology synchronization and energy provisions. 

Prime opportunity
Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau president, testified on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He said the negotiations present a prime opportunity to address challenges fruit and vegetable farmers have faced with Mexico, as well as a chance for dairy, row crop and wheat farmers to settle issues with Canada.

“A modernized NAFTA should at best eliminate, at worst reduce, barriers to trade that keep our farmers and ranchers from having a level playing field with our neighbors,” Shawcroft said.

Farm Bureau priorities for a modernized NAFTA include:

  • Updated, science-based sanitary and phytosanitary rules;
  • Improved dispute settlement procedures for fresh fruits, vegetables and horticultural products;
  • Eliminated or reduced Canadian tariff barriers to dairy, poultry eggs and wine, as well as the recently implemented barriers to ultra-filtered milk;
  • Addressing the misuse of geographical indicators; and
  • Developing a consistent, science-based approach to biotechnology.

“A modernized NAFTA will not only help expand market opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers in the near term,” said Shawcroft. “It would also set a foundation for future trade agreements by establishing market-driven and science-based terms of trade and dispute resolution that will directly benefit the U.S. food and agriculture industry.” 

Public hearings continue June 28-29. 

Source: U.S. Grains Council, AFBF

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