Is U.S. agriculture's voice for trade with Canada falling on deaf ears?


Lobbying can be a repetitive and tiresome job, both in Ottawa and in Washington. Sometimes it can feel like your message is just not getting through to the government like you need it to. Such is the case, it can be said, regarding U.S. agriculture groups pressing its government on the benefits of NAFTA and trade with Canada in general.

Canada is a very important market for the U.S. agriculture industry. According to USDA data, in 2017 Canada imported a value surpassing $20 billion (full report here). The U.S. exports of high-value food and beverage products to Canada ($16.3 billion) represented 25 percent of total U.S. consumer-oriented agricultural exports. The top export categories included: fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, meat, prepared foods, snack foods and soft drinks.

Specific to NAFTA, U.S. and Canadian ag groups have lobbied on each others’ behalf to get the message through to the administration that this is a valuable trade relationship. Lobbying has not been easy and some would be critical and say not it hasn’t been successful either.

Hear Shaun Haney talk to Kim Atkins of the U.S. Grains Council on the NAFTA talks, a trade war with China, and if a return to CPTPP could be possible for the U.S.:

During my trip to Commodity Classic last month, and in talking to people that attended the recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association meeting, I sensed growing frustration among U.S. farm groups on how difficult it seems to be to get the trade message through to the U.S. president.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Mike Adams, host of Adams on Agriculture, on how farm groups are dealing with lobbying the White House to not lose the NAFTA deal. Adams said, “When I talk to farm groups they are trying to find positives, they are hopeful that this is going to turn out for the best. With every week it become increasingly harder to do that.”

I believe one of the challenges for U.S. commodity groups is they are fighting a multi-front battle involving NAFTA, South Korea, CPTPP, and China.  With the implementation of steel and aluminium tariffs and a possible $60 billion trade sanction on China directly, U.S. agriculture has many concerns regarding China’s appetite to purchase U.S. commodities such as beef, milk powder, and, most importantly, soybeans.

Kim Atkins, chief operating officer for the U.S. Grains Council, is concerned. “U.S. agriculture has had a lot of success in China and that is at risk,” she says. “We see a long picture with China, a large population with growing middle class that wants a higher protein diet. We are staying positive and believe that we can ride out this difficult time.”

U.S. agriculture will definitely need someone in the White House to be its voice, and that really does fall on the shoulders of U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue. Atkins believes that Perdue is up to the task, “We have a real advocate in Sonny Perdue, he certainly has brought forward the message that china (trade) is important. For agriculture China is a very important market for us.”

Adams says it’s more about the cumulative number of voices telling the president his protectionist policies are a good thing. “It’s about who has the president’s ear. Perdue does have his ear but I am not sure his one voice offsets the other two or three other voices that are telling Trump to go a different direction,” he says.

Even though U.S. agriculture groups resilience is being tested they show no sign of relenting in their messaging on trade. Even though President Trump pulled out of TPP, agriculture groups have never given up in their messaging on the value of TPP to agriculture in hopes that he would come around to their line of thinking.

As farmers and ranchers increasingly question the outcome of the president’s protectionist measures, agriculture groups will stay focused on trying to have their message on trade heard in the White House, no matter how many tries it takes.

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