SPOKANE — National grain industry leaders are urging President Donald Trump not to pull out of a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Lobbyists are “increasingly fearful” that Trump will decide to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Jerry Hagstrom, of the Hagstrom Report newsletter, as moderator of a panel discussion at the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says he is working on a contingency plan in case Trump withdraws from NAFTA, Hagstrom said.
“The very unfortunate thing about trade agreements is they take years to negotiate — it’s a give-and-take on both sides and it has to be ratified by both the House and Senate — but we can be taken out of a trade agreement with the stroke of the pen of a president,” said Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers.
“When you start to talk publicly of renegotiation or termination, it tips the scales out of our favor in the long-term investment from businesses into U.S. wheat,” said Mike Miller, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates and the Washington Grain Commission.
Mexico, the largest market for U.S. wheat, recently signed a tender for 30,000 metric tons of wheat from Argentina and has begun seeking other suppliers in South America because of the uncertainty around NAFTA, Goule and Miller said.
Miller said it’s not a good sign for the U.S., “because it shows weakness in our armor.”
Almost 95 percent of malt barley is exported, 75 percent of which goes to Mexico and 15 percent to Canada, said Dwight Little, president of the National Barley Growers Association.
“If you take those two countries out of the mix, either through higher tariffs or lack of negotiation or whatever problem develops, where would you sell that excess malt barley?” he said.
Trump emphasized bilateral agreements between the U.S. and individual countries during his campaign. Such agreements are “the dream,” but very lengthy to negotiate and sign, Miller said.
Instead of bilaterals, the Japanese government seems to be sticking with the Trans-Pacific Partnership market, an agreement Trump pulled out of shortly after his inauguration, Miller said.
The remaining TPP countries met this week in Vietnam, Hagstrom said.
“They seem more interested in reaching an agreement among themselves than they do making bilaterals,” he said.
Such an agreement would be an advantage to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which already do well in markets where the U.S. doesn’t have trade agreements, he added.
U.S. Wheat will continue to speak with U.S. officials, Miller said, and urged farmers to stay informed.
Little called for continued pressure on the Trump administration.
“Really, in a lot of instances, NAFTA has been a good, solid agreement for us as producers in this room,” he said.
Goule later provided telephone numbers for the White House and for members of Congress, for farmers to voice opposition for withdrawal from NAFTA and share the importance of a new farm bill.