'NAFTA' renegotiations begin

Aug 18, 2017

Trade panel at the GNDC annual Policy Summit in Bismarck.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Canada, Mexico and the United States have begun NAFTA negotiations.

Corn farmers in the Plains and Midwest are lobbying for the status quo.

Mexico, in particular, has become a big customer of American corn, but the Trump administration is looking to modify NAFTA to aid the manufacturing industry. Jon Doggett of the National Corn Growers Association said that puts everything up for discussion.

“What we’re concerned about is, in order to get something else on the manufacturing side will something within the corn sector or the ag sector be traded away,” Doggett said .

Some other farm groups hope the discussion gets around to the cattle industry. The National Farmers Union wants mandatory meat labels that tell consumers which country produced their beef and pork. That’s something Canada and Mexico have resisted.

Meanwhile, North Dakoat farm and commodity groups say they believe the North American Free Trade Agreement – or “NAFTA” – needs to be re-negotiated. But they want to be a part of it.

"We feel producers need to have a seat at the table, and not be on the menu," said Kayla Pulvermacher of the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Speaking at the Greater North Dakota Chamber’s annual policy summit, held in Bismarck, Pulvermacher said the NAFTA agreement dates back to the 1990s – and it needs some updates.

"Sometimes, things need to be enhanced," Pulvermacher said. "We think trade is one of those things that needs to be enhanced for family farmers in North Dakota."

North Dakota Farm Bureau president Daryl Lies agrees the renegotiations are long overdue. He said he has some ideas that he’d like to see in NAFTA and some other free trade agreements. But Lies said he wants them to be “equitable” agreements.

"We should not be imposing things on the American farmer, such as climate change or environmental things that may off-set the opportunuties we gain," Lies said. "It should be more than a net-zero gain."

Lies also said agreements like the canceled Trans-Pacific Partnership, or “TPP,” weren’t fair, either.

"There were no provisions in there for accepting our biotechnology," Lies said. "So they could restrict that trade. To say that it was 'free and fair trade' was a misnomer."

Pulvermacher said farmers have to do a better job of explaining to our trade partners the reasons for GMO crops – and the benefits they have.