How Trump’s new NAFTA could boost American farming
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For decades, America’s farming and rural communities have suffered lost jobs, lowered wages and fleeting economic liberty as a result of our nation’s free trade agenda.

We’ve traded away our sovereignty and allowed a massive trade imbalance with foreign countries to undercut American industries and workers. As the Trump administration looks to revamp our trade deals, it’s time our country turn the page to a new, fair trade agenda that benefits American family farmers, ranchers and rural residents. This begins today at the outset of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations.

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For decades, National Farmers Union has warned of the imprudence of the “free trade” agenda. With the implementation of each new trade deal, the free trade framework has accelerated the rate at which we give away market access and sovereignty for the sake of expanded markets. This macroeconomic management works well for the multinational corporations who rely upon these expanded markets to please their shareholders, but it has failed the farmers, ranchers and rural residents who must compete with the increased imports that follow.

 

Twenty-three years ago, NAFTA established a set of trade parameters that have benefitted corporate America — while damaging rural American communities and economies. Those parameters became a framework that is replicated in the 14 trade deals the U.S. entered since NAFTA, and it’s that framework that needs to be fixed.

Last year, the U.S. ran a $500 billion deficit in trade with other countries. That’s not responsible. And it’s not sustainable. No fiscally responsible individual withdraws more money from their bank account than they deposit, yet we have we done it as a country for the past 40 years with respect to trade. 

In turn, we export jobs and wages rather than goods and services. President Trump campaigned on the trade deficit issue, and he won over many areas of the country by promising to fix it. This must translate into effective, balanced-trade provisions in any new framework.

Also central to a fair trade framework is stemming the exodus of money and power from rural America. As written now, the rules provide immense power to the handful of corporate executives and shareholders that have a heavy hand in the writing of our trade agreements. 

For instance, NAFTA was the first U.S. trade agreement to include the investor-state dispute settlement arbitration procedure, which allows foreign companies to sue governments over laws that undermine their profits. These suits go before foreign tribunals, and their results ultimately dictate U.S. laws. We should reject any similar provisions that consolidate corporate control under a new NAFTA.

Finally, we need to preserve our sovereignty. All nations deserve the right to set domestic policies supported by their people. That includes policies that ensure farmers are paid a fair share for their crops and livestock.

Several years ago, a challenge from our NAFTA trading partners, Canada and Mexico, convinced Congress to repeal the U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law on meat. COOL was a commonsense law that gave American consumers desired information about the food they eat. It also allowed American ranchers to distinguish their product in the marketplace. In fact, more than 90 percent of consumers support the law.

The Trump administration was initially supportive of reinstating country-of-origin labeling through NAFTA negotiations, but has since removed any mention of the law from its objectives. We must not allow foreign governments and companies to dictate our laws here at home. 

Of course, trade with foreign countries is vital to the American farm economy. We rely on positive trade relationships to export our abundance of goods. Without these relationships, prices for crops and livestock would plummet for farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture has long been a bright spot for U.S. international trade, offering a surplus. However, this surplus is just a tiny fraction of our overall total trade deficit, and not enough to stop the harm a free trade agenda inflicts on rural communities. Even with Mexico and Canada, the U.S. has a trade deficit in agricultural goods. 

The president needs to negotiate in a manner that preserves and expands American agriculture’s trade relationships with the rest of the world, not harms them.

To this point, the president has not engaged our trading partners with the level of tact or diplomacy necessary to promote good trade relationships. He has sparked tensions with each of our NAFTA trading partners and has even provoked Mexican trade officials to search for new markets to buy their corn. 

American family farmers and ranchers have long been behind the president’s stated intent of balancing our trade and restoring our sovereignty. We’ll remain adamant that this NAFTA renegotiation process must institute a fair trade framework that benefits the livelihoods of all Americans. 

Roger Johnson is president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), a grassroots organization that represents nearly 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, fisherman and rural communities across the United States. Johnson is a third generation farmer from Turtle Lake, North Dakota, and previously served as North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner. Follow NFU on Twitter at @NFUDC


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