U.S. Grains Council: Pace of NAFTA talks not unusual, but worth monitoring

The fourth round of NAFTA renegotiations between the United States, Canada and Mexico ended earlier this month with little progress made in efforts to revamp the free trade agreement. The stalled negotiations have been a source of worry for farmers, who are understandably concerned about tariffs in a non-NAFTA world.

Not so fast, however, according to Thomas Sleight, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council.

Tom Sleight, President of the U.S. Grains Council.

Sleight said four rounds of negotiations with little progress is actually fairly normal in renegotiating a trade deal of this size. While farmers would understandably like more certainty, it unfortunately isn’t realistic in most cases at this point in talks.

“This is a normal pace—you table your proposals and then each side will go back and study them,” Sleight said. “It is always darkest before the dawn, but it isn’t time to push the panic button yet.”

Sleight said he expects the next round, held in Mexico City Nov. 17-21, is where the public will see negotiations start to develop, whether that is in a positive or negative fashion.

One proposal the U.S. Grains Council is watching closely, according to Sleight, is the seasonal produce proposal. Introduced by U.S. negotiators, the proposal was brought to the table as a way to protect smaller and seasonal producers claiming seasonality. These groups would be able to file cases claiming Mexico is selling produce at unfairly low prices when it is in season in a particular region.

A proposal like this has big implications for U.S. producers if Mexico begins to take the same steps with commodities grown in their country.

“It is a very narrow proposal that helps a small group of people that could be a big concern for a lot of commodities,” Sleight said.

Overall, NAFTA is extremely important to U.S. agriculture. Mexico is the largest market for American corn and dried distillers’ grains (DDGS), as well as a fast-growing market for ethanol. With that, Sleight said the time is now for farmers to make their concerns known.

It is important for farmers to talk to their local and national representatives about NAFTA and the importance of trade relationships to their farms. By hearing the corn farmer’s perspective, legislators will have the necessary insights to advocate for their needs.

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