If NAFTA ain’t broke, don’t fix it, pork sector says

CNS Canada — As talks begin toward reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement, John Ross of the Canadian Pork Council repeats what many in the pork and beef industries in Canada and the U.S. have been saying all along: First, do no harm.

“The worst thing that could happen to us was if we went backwards,” he said in an interview. It would upset the industry in all three countries, he said, if a new NAFTA brought in tariffs, border fees or increased regulations.

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“The base is where it should be. The product moves where the market takes it.”

Pork producers and packers in all three countries have expressed satisfaction with the present deal, so at most, he said, negotiators might want to look at streamlining regulations to make the cross-border flow of goods easier.

As well, he said, steps to further standardize inspections would help support the integrated North American pork market.

Ross said he’s not too worried about political rhetoric that can sometimes inflame emotions when trade talks are in the works. Politicians in all countries have their constituents to play to, he said, and they have messages they need to get across to the public.

“At the end of the day, we got a good thing going and I don’t think anybody is going to want to upset that.”

The Canadian pork industry is heavily export-dependent, with about 70 per cent of production exported at an estimated worth of $4 billion, according to data from the pork council.

Most of that goes to the U.S. and Mexico, with 408,000 tonnes of pork worth about $1.4  billion going to the U.S., the top market for Canadian pork.

The U.S. pork industry is also geared toward exports. It shipped 2.31 million tonnes of pork in 2016, according to the National Pork Board, worth about US$5.94 billion. The top five markets for U.S. pork are Mexico, China, Japan, Canada and South Korea.

— Terry Fries writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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