Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Wednesday that his department is drawing up contingency plans for the agriculture industry should the U.S. exit the North American Free Trade Agreement.
His comments come just a week before the fifth round of talks to renegotiate the 1993 trade deal among the U.S., Canada and Mexico get underway. The talks have seen little progress, with the U.S.' trading partners rejecting the Trump administration's more radical changes to the pact.
That has raised the specter that the talks could fall apart and President Trump could withdraw from the treaty. Perdue indicated that was a very real possibility in remarks made to reporters. "We're talking with the administration and Congress about some mitigation efforts if that were to occur — about how we could protect our producers with that [agricultural] safety net based on prices that may respond negatively to any kind of NAFTA withdrawal," he said.
Still, Perdue stressed that the plans were just a contingency and that he didn't think the talks would fail. "There'll be some nervous bumps in the meantime" because trade is so important to U.S. agriculture, he said, according to Politico.
The fifth round of talks is officially set to start Nov. 17 in Mexico City. The talks have been difficult, with the U.S. calling for an expiration date, allowing countries to opt out of the investor-state dispute settlement system and to increase the requirement for when an item can be labeled “made in America," among other changes. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said at the conclusion of the fourth round of talks last he was “surprised and disappointed by the resistance" to the proposals.