President Donald Trump made a campaign promise to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada; the new agreement still has to be finalized and ratified by Congress.
“The Trump administration was negotiating with the governments of Canada and Mexico. And they, last year in the fall, said, ‘okay we’re done negotiating. We have a new version of this deal.’ So, that’s where we are. [NAFTA]’s been renegotiated. There’s a new proposal, essentially, to look at.
“And the next step is that each country would have to have their legislature adopt it. So here in the U.S., Congress would have to vote for this new deal. And the name that they’ve given it is the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement – the USMCA. But you hear a lot of people just calling it the ‘new NAFTA.’”
What’s in it? What are the changes that the U.S. is going to be getting out of this?
“There was a lot of hype [laughter] about what a radical re-write it was going to be of the original NAFTA deal. And a lot of it didn’t really change all that much. So, if we’re talking about the food system it doesn’t change all that much. There’s a lot of different parts of agriculture and they all have different markets and different things that they were looking for in this deal.
“So for some sectors, like the dairy sector – the biggest players in the dairy industry wanted to be able to send more dairy products to Canada. Canada doesn’t typically let a lot of dairy products in. And they made a little bit of change there to let a little bit in. The same thing for wheat, sending U.S. wheat to Canada.
“The U.S. meat industry wanted to keep bringing not just meat, but animals, in from Canada and Mexico. And they will still be allowed to do that. And then there’s other parts of agriculture that didn’t like the old NAFTA and aren’t keen on this new one.
“The Florida tomato industry is an example of that. They don’t like the amount of Mexican tomatoes that have been able to come in under this current NAFTA. And they think that the newly-negotiated deal doesn’t change that and is unfair to the market that they’re in.”
How were tomatoes affected by NAFTA? And what, if anything, might change under a new trade deal?
“Basically, Florida grows a lot of tomatoes and they grow a lot of tomatoes in the winter. And they saw a tremendous increase – once NAFTA came into play – of tomatoes coming in from Mexico. To the point that the U.S. tomato industry, especially Florida, wanted the U.S. government to file a challenge to Mexico. And say, ‘you’re dumping these tomatoes on our market. You’re sending them in subsidized and with an artificially low price. Lower than we can do here. You’re dumping on our market and that’s not allowed under these trade deals.’
“And then there was a whole negotiation that was supposed to kind of set a minimum price to stop the flood of these cheaper tomatoes coming in. And the folks in the Florida industry – many of them said it didn’t work. It’s not working. And put in some extra new ideas in a new version of NAFTA to protect their markets and stop the amount coming in and that did not happen. So, what I’ve seen, a lot of folks in the Florida tomato industry say that this new version of NAFTA won’t fix the problems that’s in the old version.”
Is there anything in the new trade deal that would make sure that there’s enough migrant farmworkers to work the fields? Is there a shortage of people to work the fields? And is there any kind of crackdown on immigration that’s affecting those numbers?
“Well, lots of folks in different parts of agriculture – different parts of the country – are terribly unhappy with our immigration policy. They’re pointing out — all over the country — different types of agriculture, saying. ‘we don’t have people to hire to pick these crops.’ It’s an industry that’s incredibly dependent on immigrant labor. And they have been for a long time.
“That isn’t explicitly dealt with in NAFTA. There’s a lot of folks who say if NAFTA had been more fair and not led to a lot of, essentially, cheap things we produce in the U.S. – like corn – being dumped on the Mexican market it wouldn’t have displaced so many people who were then looking for work and came to the U.S. And maybe ended up a farmworker in the U.S. because they couldn’t be a farmer in Mexico any more.
“So there’s a lot of intertwined impacts that people were displaced by NAFTA. But NAFTA itself it’s not really about people, explicitly, it’s about goods, right? What are the tariff rates? How much of this can you import or export? There’s still this whole mess with not dealing with our immigration policy. The trade deal, of renegotiating NAFTA doesn’t really take that on.”
Those were my only questions. Is there anything else that we should know?
“This isn’t done. I think a lot of people thought, ‘oh, it got renegotiated and this is it now,’ and Congress hasn’t approved it yet. So we have more steps. There’s all these procedures and studies they have to do. But at some point Congress is supposed to vote on it. So it’s not yet a done deal.”