SPOKANE — President Donald Trump is working to replace NAFTA with bilateral agreements with Canada and Mexico, the chairman of the House Ag Committee told Washington agricultural leaders Aug. 8.
Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said he didn’t have further details, but he got the sense that was the direction Trump was moving with both countries during a recent meeting on trade with the president.
Trump prefers bilateral agreements to NAFTA and to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Conaway said.
Conaway spoke to leaders representing wheat, potatoes and cattle feeders Aug. 8 during a breakfast in downtown Spokane.
Joe Bippert, program director for the Washington Grain Commission, said it wasn’t surprising to hear that bilateral agreements replacing NAFTA is a possibility.
“Ultimately, farmers want trade agreements with our markets,” Bippert said. “How that looks, if it’s NAFTA is renegotiated or if it’s a bilateral with Canada and Mexico, as long as the agreements are in place and have value to farmers, I would see that as being a positive.”
Bippert said farmers have demonstrated their trust in Trump’s ability to negotiate a deal.
“We would certainly be open to dialogue to provide input on how those negotiations and each decision that is made would impact our industry,” he said.
Matt Harris, director of government affairs for the Washington Potato Commission, also views the possibility as a positive. Speeding up the process is needed, he said.
“To move forward is something we want to see,” Harris said. “If we stall out these agreements, it just exacerbates the problems, especially when we look at our trade into Mexico with the current structure of new tariffs that have been placed on frozen french fries because of the breakdown in communication in the original NAFTA renegotiations.”
Retired wheat farmer Randy Suess asked why Trump and the U.S. don’t use World Trade Organization trade dispute processes to address unfair trade issues against the country more often, particular with China.
Previous administrations have worked as though the U.S. should be an example in trade for the rest of the world, Conaway said.
“China cheats, and this president’s going after them,” he said. “I’m encouraged that we’ve got a president now who’s willing to fight to try to enforce our trade deals. We all (learned) in school to stand up to a bully, and sometimes the bully punches back. That’s what’s happening.”
Conaway understands that ag representatives can find China’s retaliation “unsettling,” but said it’s the right move for Trump to make.
“It’s the right fight to have,” Conaway said. “I think President Trump’s much more amenable to going after folks like this. There’s a lot in play right now, and we also don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. (Wife Suzanne) and I raised four children: Spank one, and the other three got real perfect for a while.”
Trump also told ag committee leaders that he wanted “bigger, better” and “great” crop insurance, Conaway said.
Conaway doesn’t foresee much change to crop insurance in the farm bill.
Conaway told the ag leaders he was “beyond compelled” to finishing the Farm Bill on time, by the Sept. 30 deadline, to provide farmers with certainty.
“I’m moving heaven and earth,” he said. “I know how hard things right now are in their world. They’ve burned through equity, they’ve burned through capacity to stay in the fight (through) these long, extended periods of low commodity prices. We’re trying to get a farm bill done as quickly as possible so that at least we can take that unknown off the table for them by the end of September.”
Other topics during the breakfast meeting included commercial longhaul driver hour requirements, labor, the Columbia River Treaty, rural broadband needs and research priorities.