Nov 21, 2017
NAFTA talks restart, NPC keeps eye on trucking issue

As the fifth round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) get underway in Mexico City, the National Potato Council (NPC) issued a statement warning negotiators not to reopen the long-running disagreement over cross-border trucking between the US and Mexico.

NPC also signed a letter, along with 103 other agriculture organizations, urging U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to avoid a repeat of the dispute involving reciprocity for Mexican trucks. The letter outlined the agriculture industry’s concerns that the renegotiations may revive this issue.

“Eliminating NAFTA trucking, including any investment protections, would have a long-term negative impact on our businesses,” the letter reads.

The NPC said the punitive tariffs imposed by Mexico upon various U.S. products including frozen potato products resulted in a substantial loss of business and benefits being transferred to Canadian interests. The group put the overall cost of those retaliatory Mexican tariffs on U.S. frozen potato imports at $53 million.

“Potatoes were high on the retaliation list the last time these issues bubbled up to the surface,” said John Keeling, NPC CEO.  “We do not want to see a repeat of those economic impacts.”

The NPC also issued a statement about comments that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made regarding NAFTA renegotiations and the agriculture sector in general. As reported in multiple outlets including Politico, Ross said the agriculture sector is being too vocal on behalf of American farmers.

“As one special interest group, say agriculture for example, gets nervous they start screaming and yelling publicly,” he said to a meeting of the Wall Street Journal’s business council in Washington D.C. “They start writing letters, soliciting the Congress people, and (then) they start screaming and yelling in public. It just complicates the environment and, frankly, makes the negotiations harder.”

The NPC characterized these comments as only the latest in a back-and-forth between Ross and the agriculture industry. That includes his statement in October that the harm to U.S. agriculture from a withdrawal from NAFTA is “an empty threat” because “As far as I can tell, there is not a world oversupply of agricultural products.”

That spurred 83 agriculture organizations including NPC, American Farm Bureau Federation and United Fresh Produce Association to write to Secretary Ross in late October advising him of the negative impact that a NAFTA withdrawal would cause for the potato industry and American farmers in general.

“We respectfully submit that notification of NAFTA withdrawal would cause immediate, substantial harm to American food and agriculture industries and to the U.S. economy as a whole,” the letter read.

Though the administration initially hoped to conclude NAFTA renegotiations by the end of 2017, all three parties have indicated that talks will continue into next year before any final agreement could be reached.


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