In a 40-minute speech to the United States’ biggest farm organization, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about free trade for 49 seconds.
In 120 words Trump told the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting Monday in Nashville he was working to get U.S. farmers better trade deals.
“To level the playing field for our great American exporters, farmers and ranchers as well as our manufacturers, we are reviewing all of our trade agreements to make sure that they are fair and reciprocal,” Trump said. “Reciprocal, so important.
“On NAFTA I am working very hard to get a better deal for our country and for farmers and for our manufacturers.” he said, triggering applause.
“It’s under negotiation as we speak. But think of it, when Mexico is making all of that money, when Canada is making all of that money, it’s not the easiest negotiation. But we’re going to make it fair for you people again. Now we want to see even more victories for the American farmer and for the American rancher.”
The farm bureau, like many other U.S. farm organizations, has urged the U.S. government “to do no harm” in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks triggered by Trump soon after his election last year.
Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has said he will tear up NAFTA if he can’t negotiate better terms for the U.S.
While most observers agree Trump can abrogate the 23-year-old agreement by giving Canada and Mexico six months’ notice, it’s also believed the U.S. Congress could save the agreement that resulted in US$60 billion in agricultural trade between the three countries last year.
AFBF president Zippy Duvall on Sunday stressed the importance of trade to farmers.
“Without those global markets, our already-depressed farm economy would go down even more,” he told the meeting. “Trade should not be a dirty word.
“We sell about half of what we produce to foreign markets around the world. If we lose those markets, where is that agricultural production going to go? Ag trade is an American success story.”
Later that day Canada’s Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay also promoted free trade.
“My message to you this morning is the government of Canada is committed to working with you to strengthen (the) Canada-U.S. relationship for the good of our people, our businesses and our economy,” said MacAulay, the first Canadian agriculture minister to address the 99-year-old farm organization.
“The fact of the matter is we’re friends whether we like it or not. We’ve worked together too long.
“No two nations depend on each other more for their prosperity and for their security than Canada and the United States. And today that is even more vital than ever.”
MacAulay emphasized NAFTA and trade are important for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Since NAFTA came into force, its partners’ agricultural trade with each other tripled, while U.S. ag trade to Canada and Mexico quadrupled.
“Last year more than US$47 billion (C$60 billion) worth of agricultural products passed over our borders,” he said. “That includes more than $600 million right here in Tennessee.”
MacAulay said the U.S. has an $8 billion goods and services trade surplus with Canada; Canada is the top export market for two-thirds of U.S. states and trade with Canada supports nine million jobs — 170,000 in Tennessee alone.
MacAulay’s speech wasn’t all facts and figures. He employed some ‘down east’ charm delivered in a warm Prince Edward Island lilt that garnered laughter and applause.
“I think you are fortunate to have Sonny Purdue as your secretary of agriculture in Washington,” MacAulay said. “And he’s a good friend of mine. And he’s a farmer and I am. And he knows what we think.”
MacAulay spoke about their first meeting after he heard Purdue wanted to meet.
“I can tell you if the secretary of agriculture for the United States of America wants to see me he’s going to see me,” MacAulay said. “That’s the way this works.”
Noting trade is a two-way street, MacAulay said Canada has exported “pretty important stuff” to Nashville “like Shania Twain.”
And with the Nashville Predators looking like they could be in the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to former Montreal Canadiens player P.K. Subban, MacAulay said: “I can tell you I want the Predators to help me on any trade deal.”
Later at a news conference in Nashville, MacAulay said Canada will not forsake Canada’s supply-managed dairy sector.
All countries have sensitive areas, he said, especially in agriculture, including the U.S., which protects sugar production.
Former Canadian agricultural trade negotiator Mike Gifford, noting Canadian dairy production is rising, has suggested a Canadian compromise would be to allow more U.S. milk to enter Canada by increasing tariff rate quotas.
Asked Monday about the idea by Canadian reporters, MacAulay said, “It has been made very clear myself and our government that we are going to fully support the supply management system because it has been, without a question, a model for the world.
“We see absolutely no reason to change our system. All counties have certain things that they wish to protect.
“The fact is, why would you dismantle a system that is so efficient?” he said in response to another reporter’s question.
Much of Trump’s speech focused on the improving U.S. economy and reduced unemployment, for which the president took credit.
He also said farmers would be among the beneficiaries of the recently passed federal tax cuts, including farm family estates.
Trump also touted his cuts to regulations, including some aimed at protecting the environment, which he said got in farmers’ way.
“We are also putting an end to the regulatory assault to your way of life,” Trump said.
“For years many of you have endured burdensome fines, inspections, paperwork and relentless intrusion for an army of regulators at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and countless other federal agencies.”
“We are streamlining regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate thrive and to grow. Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”
After his speech Trump signed an executive order promoting the expansion of broadband internet in rural areas.
— Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator at Miami, Man. Follow him at @AllanReporter on Twitter.