Agri-food traders must work together to make trade work

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last week, I joined members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and their counterparts from Mexico and Canada, in Denver, Colorado for the 26th annual Tri- National Agricultural Accord. The importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dominated deliberations.

The three days concluded will all three countries signing a communique stressing the necessity of NAFTA for agriculture and calling on their respective federal governments to ensure a modernized NAFTA does not harm agriculture. It was also stressed senior federal decision-makers must maintain robust, rapid and legally-binding dispute resolutions in NAFTA that are fair and impartial.

NASDA represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the departments of agriculture, in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. The Tri-National meeting is an opportunity for members to work together collaboratively on agricultural trade and development issues.

Hopefully NASDA’s pro-NAFTA communique will land on the desks of key decision makers in Washington.

After all, Canada and Mexico are the first and third export markets for U.S. agricultural products, including meat and dairy, sweeteners, grains, fruit and vegetable. North Dakota and Montana send over 70 per cent of their exports to Canada. Mexico is the number one destination for U.S. beef. Michigan, Arizona, and Texas all send over 30 per cent of their exports to Mexico.

International trade is crucial for Canadian agriculture and agri-food, as 58 per cent of its total value is generated through exports. We export over half of our agri-food products, and the potential is there to continue to develop value-added export as well as locally-produced replacement for import.

Ontario’s top agricultural trade is with California, Texas, Florida and the Great Lakes states, and total U.S. exports of $14.8 billion. The United States has a significant surplus with Ontario.

Clearly, Canada, the United States and Mexico all benefit from our deeply integrated trade relationships, with the resultant economic prosperity, and jobs in the millions.

Ontario strongly supports Canada’s supply management system. Dairy trade between Canada and the U.S. favours the US by a ratio of around 5 to 1 – $558m to $112m in 2016. Canada represents less than 0.3 per cent of the global dairy trade in 2016, and is too small of a player to distort world markets for skim milk powder.

Since 1984, state and provincial agriculture officials from the U.S. and Canada have met to enhance coordination, discuss challenges, and foster closer bilateral cooperation.

Canada and U.S. delegates recognized our bilateral relationship is not without its challenges. During the bilateral discussions at this year’s Tri-National Agricultural Accord, U.S. delegates raised concerns with Canadian dairy pricing, wheat access issues, and provincial wine regulations. Canadian delegates raised concerns with potatoes, border inspection practices, U.S. permanent marking requirements and trade in small ruminants like sheep and goats.

Clearly the existing trade relationships for Canada, Mexico and the US are priceless. If NAFTA goes down, it’s a lose – lose – lose for all three countries.

We need to have our eyes wide open; all we have worked for over a generation could be at stake. The rest of the world looks at NAFTA as one of the best.  The only bad trade agreement is the agreement you’re not in.