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Wisconsin Agriculture Support For NAFTA Grows Louder

Agriculture Leaders Look To Preserve Access To Mexican, Canadian Markets

Round Cheese
infowidget (CC-BY-SA)

More Wisconsin agriculture and food groups are joining Americans for Farmers and Families, a national coalition that supports continuing free trade with Canada and Mexico.

Some in the agriculture industry worry the United States will leave the North American Free Trade Agreement as it remains under negotiation.

The Trump administration is unhappy with the current deal but Kari Kuehl with the Wisconsin-based American Dairy Association — one of the coalition’s eight new members — said pulling out of NAFTA would put dairy farms at risk.

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“We intend to do all we can to make clear to President (Donald) Trump and other policymakers the need to remain in NAFTA even as discussion takes place on updating it,” said Kuehl.

Mexico and Canada are the top two buyers of U.S. cheese exports, says David Ward with the Cooperative Network, which represents dairy businesses that work with independent dairy farmers.

According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the value of cheese exports to Mexico in 2016 was more than $362 million. Cheese exports to Canada were roughly $66.9 million.

For that reason, Ward’s 400 members across Wisconsin and Minnesota are in favor of tweaking the agreement but not scrapping it. He said his and other industries need access to Mexican and Canadian markets.

“We need to remind people of the importance of those agriculture markets to Wisconsin and United States agriculture,” said Ward. “And remind people of the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy.”

Agriculture supports close to 400,000 Wisconsin jobs and injects $90 billion into the state’s economy, Ward said. If the U.S. walks away from NAFTA, he said, Canada and Mexico could create trading partnerships with other countries.

But Tom Bressner with the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association said he’s not worried the U.S. will abandon negotiations under Trump.

“I know there’s been a lot of messages, a lot of factual information that have gone his way since then,” Bressner explained. “I think he’s tamed down his views. I don’t know that it’s a pull-out situation.”

Bressner said his 300 members joined the Americans for Farmers and Families group to show unified support of the deal that quadrupled agriculture trade between the U.S. and member countries since its signing in the 1990s.

But he said he understands it may take a while for all three countries to reach a deal.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin chapter of the new coalition said the group’s understanding of how negotiations are going are based off news reporting.

Bloomberg reports the next round of NAFTA talks will begin at the end of the month in Mexico City.