The Trump administration's deputy secretary of agriculture said the federal government believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement has been a boon for U.S. farmers, a week before the fifth round of renegotiations on the trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada begin.
The comments to a Midwest news organization come the same week his boss, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, said the USDA was working on contingency plans for the the farm industry should the current talks to renegotiate the deal fail and the White House pulls the U.S. out of the deal.
"We know that NAFTA has been a bonanza for U.S. agriculture producers," Steve Censky said, the North Dakota-based Forum News Service reported Friday. "The importance of NAFTA cannot be overstated."
The comments followed a speech by Censky to the Minnesota-based AgriGrowth Council, in which he said: "Our message from USDA [to the White House] has been clear: We have to make sure we do no harm to agriculture."
On Wednesday Perdue told 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." The comment prompted alarm by many in the farm industry, which has been one of the business sectors most supportive of NAFTA.
The fifth round of NAFTA renegotiation talks is officially set to start Nov. 17 in Mexico City. The talks have been difficult, with the U.S. calling for a sunset provision, 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.