By David Pendered
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue emphasized the value of NAFTA as he met this week in Savannah with senior government representatives of Canada and Mexico. Perdue’s support was evident in his tweets and his support of the joint statement released at the conclusion of the trade meeting.
From a closing tweet:
- “The relationships bolstered over the last two days in #Savannah will help the U.S., Canada & Mexico economies into the future. #Trilateral”
Another tweet, related to a tour of the Port of Savannah:
- “Commerce in motion at @GAPorts near #Savannah. Bringing my Canadian & Mexican counterparts to help strengthen already solid relationships.”
- “Very constructive trilateral meeting with my friends from Canada & Mexico, @L_MacAulay & @ppcalzada, talking #Ag interests of our nations.”
From the statement:
- “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.”
Perdue met June 19-20 with Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s agriculture minister, and José Calzada, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture. The three did not provide details of their conversations.
The final statement signaled fairly strong support for revising terms of NAFTA but not tossing it out the window. Talks are set to begin as early as August. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are to represent the U.S.
Perdue’s outlook was described in a report by bloomberg.com in the following way:
- “’It’s entirely correct to modify this agreement,’ given changes in agriculture since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented in the 1990s, Perdue said in a news conference in Savannah, Georgia, with MacAulay and Calzada. ‘That’s why we’re beginning to lay a groundwork. There are family discussions that need to take place.’”
Perdue, a former Georgia governor, is credited with helping to persuade President Trump to reconsider a withdrawal from NAFTA. As Tom Baxter reported in a May 1 SaportaReport column, Perdue presented Trump with a map that showed the overlap between the areas that would be hardest hit by withdrawing from NAFTA and those that voted heavily for Trump.
As Baxter recounted:
- “’It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,’ Trump told The Washington Post later. ‘They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.’
- “The president sent out a tweet saying the leaders of Canada and Mexico had called and asked him to renegotiate the treaty instead of terminating, and he had agreed, provided the United States got a better deal.
- “’Relationships are good — deal very possible!’ he tweeted. And that was that.”
The trade visit included a tour of Georgia farm country. Perdue’s tweets indicate that he reveled in the chance to show off the farm country between his hometown of Perry and the coast:
- “Fantastic farm-to-table @GeorgiaGrown dinner at R.T. and Diane Stanley’s. Southern hospitality finale for friends from Canada and Mexico.
- “So great to see Holly Chute, who was chef in the Governor’s Mansion while I was Gov. of GA. Now she’s Executive Chef for @GeorgiaGrown.”