Farm leaders say NAFTA succeeds for state, Canada

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Ching Lee
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, left, talks about the importance of trade during a panel discussion as Jane Proctor, vice president of policy and issue management for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, listens.
Photo/Ching Lee

The message was clear: The North American Free Trade Agreement has been largely beneficial for agriculture in California and Canada, and the two trading partners should continue working together to make what's been good even better.

Addressing California agricultural business leaders in Sacramento last week, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay highlighted three areas he said are vital to strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Canada: growing the two countries' trade and economies; NAFTA; and how the trading nations can build on these common interests.

MacAulay's trip to the Golden State represented part of a mission to promote agricultural trade with California and the U.S. just as the seventh round of NAFTA renegotiations kicked off this week in Mexico City. The minister previously visited the United States in January, speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention.

MacAulay said although he has a responsibility to ensure that trade among the three NAFTA partners—U.S., Canada and Mexico—is not disrupted and that it continues to expand, he also urged California agricultural leaders to "make sure that the people who represent you in government understand how vitally important" NAFTA is to them.

President Trump's threats to scrap NAFTA and other efforts by the administration to "modernize" it have raised concerns that the U.S. could pull out of the 24-year-old trade deal. Some U.S. agricultural organizations support renegotiation and efforts to address certain outstanding trade disputes, and many more say they support NAFTA and oppose outright withdrawal.

During his meetings with U.S. agricultural leaders, MacAulay said he has run into "hardly any negative talk about NAFTA" and has found "like-minded people … who understand the value of trade," though he also acknowledged that improvements could be made to the trade pact.

Noting that more than $47 billion in agricultural and food products crossed U.S. and Canadian borders last year, MacAulay said, "We want to make sure our trading relationship remains healthy, which means of mutual benefit for both. After all, mutual benefit is what we get in trade."

There was no disagreement from California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, who pointed out that Canada is the state's No. 1 export destination for agricultural goods, with a value of $4.1 billion annually.

"It's not just what trade means to agriculture and businesses," she said. "We lose sight in our country of what trade means to our local communities, what trade means to diplomacy and building partnerships. I believe that agricultural trade in particular is an important aspect of international relations and trade relations that everyone should pay more attention to."

In a panel discussion about trade and NAFTA, California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson talked about the importance of trade to farmers and ranchers as they try to build their markets.

"We need more of it, because we know rural California is struggling right now and our costs are going up," he said. "Trade creates choices and it creates choices not only for the consumer, it creates choices for farmers."

On priorities he would like to see trade negotiators work on as they update NAFTA, Johansson said gaining better market access for California agricultural products is a big one. Being able to successfully get into export markets is particularly important to small farmers, he said, as it could "change everything on the farm for them."

"The ability to open up that export market will encourage our small farms to continue to grow, or for people to get into agriculture," he said.

Improving transportation and making it easier to move agricultural products between borders also would help producers, Johansson said.

He stressed the importance of having uniform labeling standards between trading countries to reduce costs for farmers who want to export their products. Product labels, he said, "should be able to work across the globe," whether they promote where that product is grown or how it was produced. Uniform labeling also would help "enhance recognition that California products are the cleanest and safest on the market," he said.

The discussion panel also featured Jane Proctor, vice president of policy and issue management for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, whose members are responsible for 90 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetable sales in Canada.

She noted that although the group is based in Canada, nearly a third of its members are companies based in the U.S., which illustrates how trade in fresh fruits and vegetables in North America "is highly integrated across the entire supply chain," with many companies having business operations in all three NAFTA countries.

Open trade, she said, is critical to ensuring Canadians have access to fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. She noted that the U.S. currently enjoys a $2 billion trade surplus in fresh fruits and vegetables with Canada because of the seasonality of some produce and the year-round demand by Canadian consumers that cannot be met by the country's own growers.

"We import a tremendous amount of fresh fruits and vegetables," she said. "A huge amount of that comes from the U.S. and a tremendous amount of that comes from California."

On NAFTA renegotiations, Proctor said her organization supports further harmonizing sanitary and phytosanitary requirements and ensuring they are science-based; reducing technical barriers on a trilateral basis; and having uniform food-safety and pesticide standards.

"So much is at stake here that we have to make sure that we do this right so that we don't negatively impact Canadians, Americans and Mexicans," she said.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.