NAFTA agriculture ministers see ‘few’ differences over trade

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture Jose Calzada (l-r) speak at the Port of Savannah, Ga. on June 20. (Stephen B. Morton photo courtesy Georgia Ports Authority)

Garden City, Ga. | Reuters — The U.S., Canada and Mexico have “relatively few” differences on agricultural trade, agriculture ministers from the three countries said in a joint statement after meeting Tuesday to discuss the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

However, some “irritants” are present for each country in the runup to NAFTA renegotiations, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at a joint news conference at the Port of Savannah, Georgia. He declined to elaborate.

“Now is not the time to talk about them. These are family discussions that need to take place,” Perdue said. He compared the 23-year-old trade relationship to a marriage.

Renegotiation of NAFTA was a key campaign promise of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to shrink goods trade deficits that stood at US$63 billion with Mexico and US$11 billion with Canada last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

While the U.S. has criticized NAFTA’s impact on domestic manufacturing, it has recognized the agreement’s benefits to agriculture.

“We’ve come together to acknowledge that by and large NAFTA has been a favourable agreement for our three (agriculture) sectors in all three countries from an agricultural perspective,” Perdue said. “That is the communication I gave to President Trump.”

Perdue is meeting with Canada’s minister of agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay, and Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, Jose Calzada, in his home state for several days this week to lay groundwork for upcoming NAFTA renegotiation talks.

Reporting for Reuters by Harriet McLeod in Garden City, Georgia, and Karl Plume in Chicago.

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