Georgia voices vie for attention during NAFTA talks

By David Pendered

The NAFTA talks slated to conclude Monday have transpired as an array of Georgia voices have sought to be heard: The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and five local chambers; small farmers seeking protection from competitors based in the U.S. and Mexico; and Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor now serving as U.S. agriculture secretary.

Georgia's export trade partner

Georgia’s largest export trade partner is Canada, which has taken more than 16 percent of Georgia’s exports each year since 2013, according to the Census. Credit: blogs.voanews.com

These voices are among the myriad striving to sway the debate. This is the fourth of seven scheduled rounds of talks over the future of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The current talks have been described with words including “increased tensions,” “sour,” and “hard-line U.S. demands.” Trade ministers are slated to host a media conference on Tuesday.

President Trump has said he is willing to withdraw from NAFTA. Trump has said he is willing to create bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada if a three-way deal doesn’t meet his goals. For their part, Canada and Mexico have expressed hope an agreement can be reached; Mexico’s president indicated a willingness to work with only Canada if a tri-lateral deal to renew NAFTA is not reached before the year-end deadline.

The Georgia State Chamber of Commerce signed a letter to President Trump that was initiated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Five local chambers signed the letter – Catoosa County; Milledgeville-Baldwin; Newnan-Coweta; Robins Regional; and Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.

The letter urges Trump to stick with NAFTA. The letter calls on the president to retain and modernize the 23-year-old trade agreement. The letter, dated Oct. 10, observes:

  • “We’ve thus been pleased to see your Administration insist that we must, first, ‘do no harm’ in the NAFTA negotiations. We agree that we should move quickly to modernize this trilateral agreement and continue working with Congress in accordance with the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015.”
berry farm

Small farmers of berries in Georgia, such as Jaemor Farms in Alto, face difficult competition from farms in Mexico, even those that are controlled by U.S. companies. Credit: jaemorfarms.com

Small farmers in Georgia and other Southeastern states are affected by an issue that relates to produce imported from Mexico.

Currently, small produce growers can’t file anti-dumping claims against imports from Mexico because they don’t represent enough of the market. One U.S. proposal would grant them easier access to the anti-dumping route.

The provision faces at least two opponents, according to a report by reuters.com.

Mexico contends the proposal is anti-free trade. Larger U.S. farms oppose the proposal because it could affect their use of fields in Mexico to sell cheap produce in the U.S. year-round under current NAFTA rules.

Perdue has worked steadily this year to court relations with Mexico and Canada in advance of the NAFTA talks. Perdue and his counterparts met for a tri-lateral meeting in June in Savannah and released a joint statement that observed:

  • “The North American Free Trade Agreement has greatly helped our respective agricultural sectors as well as our consumers who have benefitted from an ever-growing variety of safe, affordable food products all year around. While even the best trading partnerships face challenges from time to time, our agricultural differences are relatively few in the context of the $85 billion in agricultural trade that flows between our three nations each year.”

Shelled peanuts rank as Georgia’s No. 15 export. The No. 1 ranked product is civilian aircraft, engines and parts, according to the Census. Credit: peanutsdon.blogspot.com

Perdue’s first international trip as ag secretary was in June, to Toronto. Perdue met with Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay and current Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne.

Perdue observed in a statement released after the meetings:

  • “We had very good, very candid discussions, very frank, like family members discussing some things that are not necessarily comfortable.  We laid out a great framework to begin renegotiating NAFTA. I was able to describe the issues that we feel are important to resolve – and can be resolved – as we begin to renegotiate NAFTA.”

The U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement in June over the import of sugar from Mexico. Following that agreement, Perdue again placed the deal in the context of the NAFTA negotiations:

  • “The agreement prevented potentially significant and retaliatory actions by the Mexican sugar industry and sets an important tone of good faith leading up to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  I maintain that if the rules are fair and the playing field is level, American agricultural products will succeed, thrive, and lead the way.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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