We are all about to be schooled in the art of the trade deal and it promises to be a white-knuckle experience.
Farmers in the United States have realized a lot of benefits from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 pact between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
It’s also true that U.S. farmers who have benefited from the deal would also like it to be a bit better.
Wheat growers, for example, say the pact has opened up the Mexican market, increasing exports by 400 percent.
At the same time, they have a beef with Canada. Canadian wheat sold at an elevator in the U.S. is rated the same as if it were produced here. But U.S. wheat delivered to an elevator in Canada is rated as feed wheat and priced accordingly.
There’s no incentive for U.S. farmers to take wheat to Canada, but Canadian farmers are on an equal footing with U.S. producers when they sell here.
Dairymen take issue with Canada, too. U.S. and Mexican dairy groups have a common interest in pressing for better treatment when products go north.
Everyone wants to keep what works, and fix what doesn’t. But anytime you renegotiate, you run the risk of the other country’s fix causing trouble. That’s part of normal negotiations.
These are hardly normal negotiations.
President Trump called for talks to renegotiate NAFTA, which he sharply criticized throughout his campaign.
Last week Trump suggested that it might be necessary to withdraw from NAFTA altogether.
“Personally, I don’t think we can make a deal because we have been so badly taken advantage of,” Trump said during a rally in Arizona. “I think we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point.”
That put farm leaders, who had supported renegotiating the pact, on edge.
“If the president were to withdraw from NAFTA, I think that would cause a lot of problems in farm country,” Ben Conner, director of policy for U.S. Wheat Associates, said. “The president has a lot more negotiating experience than I do, but if they’re trying to make counterparts in Canada and Mexico concerned, it also has us alarmed.”
Pick up the president’s book, “The Art of the Deal.”
Written in 1987, the book outlines Trump’s 11-step formula for negotiations. Step No. 5 is “use your leverage” — walk away if you can’t get what you want.
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it,” Trump wrote. “That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”
Is Trump threatening to leave NAFTA to gain leverage, or will he walk away in the hope of make a better, bigger deal some other day?
We don’t know if Trump has Canada’s and Mexico’s attention, but he’s rattled the farmers and ranchers who depend on NAFTA and other trade deals for their livelihoods.
There’s ample reason to be wary. Trade negotiations in the age of Trump are not for the faint of heart.
Standby for the next White House tweet.