Senators make appeal to Trump on NAFTA

The last few weeks have been a scramble as members of Congress attempt to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Six Republican senators met at the White House with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence Jan. 4 to advocate for NAFTA.

A primary discussion point was the negative impact a withdrawal would have on economic and stock market momentum. The appeal came from GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and John Thune of South Dakota.

The sixth round of NAFTA talks was set for Jan. 23 in Montreal.

Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been particularly vocal in his opposition toward administration comments on ending NAFTA.

At an event sponsored by the Washington International Trade Association and reported in the Hagstrom Report, Roberts on Dec. 12 urged Trump not to terminate NAFTA and criticized Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, for putting a hold on Trump’s nomination of Kansas native Greg Doud to be chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“Don’t start the clock on termination. That sends a lot of signals we don’t need to be sending,” Roberts said at the event, hosted by former Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT.

According to the Hagstrom Report, Roberts said American farmers need to sell their products now, and that withdrawing from NAFTA would add to farmers’ demands that farm bill benefits be increased at a time when Congress does not have the money for that.

Roberts also said that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations was “most unfortunate.” Noting that he had met with the president four times, Roberts said he had pointed out that farmers voted for Trump “due to the regulatory overkill they were feeling.”

Roberts said he told Trump, “I know you feel the Rust Belt came to your side, but these are your people as well.” Roberts said he hoped he made progress with the president, but “it remains to be seen.” He said he opposes proposals to rewrite NAFTA every five years.

Roberts also said he opposes the hold that Flake has placed on Doud’s nomination over the Trump administration’s proposal to allow Florida tomato growers to use trade remedy laws against surges of Mexican imports, the Hagstrom Report indicated.

Flake maintains that the proposal will hurt the integrated Arizona-Mexican produce industry.

Roberts said Flake’s hold has nothing to do with Doud, adding that he believes there should be a relationship between a hold and what a senator wants to achieve.

“We are working on it,” he added.

Baucus, who was launching the Farmers for Free Trade group that he is co-chairing with former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, said people need to find ways to inform the president on some issues, the Hagstrom Report said.

Baucus said Trump doesn’t know a lot about trade, government or other countries, and needs to be educated “on what makes sense for the country.” He acknowledged that Trump makes statements to please his base, but said his actions do not always match his rhetoric.

“Hopefully he can do what is best for the country even while he talks to his base,” Baucus said.

Baucus emphasized that his effort with Lugar to get farmers and state and local officials to defend NAFTA is bipartisan, and added that “cows and pigs are not Republicans or Democrats—they just want to get shipped overseas.”

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

At a National Press Club luncheon, Dec. 12, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said he appreciates that Trump is “a tough negotiator on behalf of America.

“I like a leader who believes in our nation, believes in its people, believes in its productivity and believes that we have been unfairly taken in some places on some of the agreements that we have made, and particularly in the enforcement area. I’m confident that President Trump wants an agreement between Canada and Mexico and NAFTA that benefits the American people, benefits the American producers.

“And while there may be some anxiety along the way, I think that his negotiating style is right in line with what we can expect to be a great NAFTA II that will benefit American farmers and producers.”

Farm groups are scrambling to save NAFTA, too. One example is the National Pork Producers Council, which sent a release Jan. 12 saying it continues to urge the Trump administration to remain committed to NAFTA and to maintain zero-duty market access for pork exports to Canada and Mexico. A U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would cost the U.S. pork industry $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, renegotiation talks for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, known as KORUS, kicked off Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].