Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press
PORTLAND — Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay, said he’s amenable to negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement but hopes the talks proceed with caution.
“It’s put a lot of money in the farmers’ pockets in the U.S. and Canada, so let’s be sure to continue down that path,” MacAulay said. “If you’re going to fix something that’s in good shape, be careful.”
MacAulay stopped in Portland July 24 for the annual summit of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a non-profit created by five American states and five Canadian provinces.
NAFTA is top of mind in agriculture these days, with negotiations over the agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico set to begin Aug. 16-20 in Washington, D.C.
After meeting with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, MacAulay sees an ally who’s also supportive of the strong trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada.
Whether Perdue will be able to influence NAFTA’s renegotiation, however, is a subject about which MacAuley said he’d prefer not to speculate.
In late April, it appeared the President Donald Trump was ready to pull out of NAFTA, until Perdue and other pro-trade agriculture groups convinced him to revisit the deal rather than withdraw entirely.
In outlining the Trump administration’s objectives in the NAFTA discussions, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer specifically pointed to “market access issues” related to trade with Canada in grain, dairy and wine that the current deal “is unequipped to address.”
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Commerce Department also recently imposed tariffs of roughly 4.6 to 7.7 percent on Canadian softwood lumber shipments that the agency determined were sold at less-than-fair-market value.
MacAulay was tight-lipped on the role that agricultural goods will play in the upcoming negotiations, saying it would be inappropriate to guess about potential points of contention before the talks are underway.
“We have to see what is put forward before we discuss it,” he said.
However, MacAulay said the supply management system for farm products — which has stirred trouble with the U.S. dairy industry — continues to be favored by Canadian farmers and the nation’s government.
“Supply management has been in place for many years and it’s working well,” he said.
Growers in the U.S. and Canada have prospered from free trade and both countries are keen on technological progress, MacAulay said.
“Farmers were always innovators from the day it started,” he said.
Since NAFTA was enacted, U.S. exports of agricultural products to Canada and Mexico have grown from less than $9 billion to more than $38 billion last year. Meanwhile, farm exports from those trading partners into the U.S. increased from $7.4 billion to $44.5 billion.
Trade between the U.S. and Canada works best when regulations are based on science, which should be emulated by other countries in the world, MacAulay said.
Before entering politics nearly 30 years ago, McAulay himself raised seed potatoes and dairy cows in Prince Edward Island, a province northeast of Maine.
Though he’s sold off the dairy herd and leased his acreage to other growers, McAulay still lives in the same house in which he was born.