As NAFTA is renegotiated, stakes are high for American farmers

World Today

Negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are underway among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

President Donald Trump has described NAFTA as “the worst trade deal – maybe ever.”

But American industries are divided over how to revamp the 1994 agreement.

As CGTN’s correspondent Steve Mort reports, the stakes are high, particularly when it comes to American agriculture.

Follow Steve Mort on Twitter @mobilemort

Workers are beginning to prepare their fields for harvesting bell peppers in November.

Farmer Richard Bowman, the director of Farming for JJ Family of Farms, said NAFTA has hit Florida agriculture hard.

“We’re asking for a level playing field,” he said. “We don’t want free trade, we want fair trade.”

The operators of this farm grow a variety of seasonal vegetables, many of which are also grown in Mexico at the same time of the year. That puts these farmers in direct competition with their NAFTA counterparts.

NAFTA gives Mexico free access to U.S. markets. But with U.S. wages on average four times those of Mexico, some Florida growers said farmers south of the border have an unfair advantage.

“We’re not asking to shut the door and stop the produce coming in,” claims Bowman. “But we need to be able to make sure that they cannot sell it in our markets below what it costs us to produce it.”

Florida agriculture leaders say imports of winter crops from Mexico have surged in recent years while U.S. production has dropped. Bowman wants NAFTA to include better enforcement mechanisms and new currency rules.

He feels that, “We need to fix the problem or the Mexican growers are just going to take over.”

But many agricultural sectors have fared well under NAFTA. U.S. farm exports to Mexico have risen 60 percent in the last decade, led by corn and soybeans.

“Some regions benefit and some regions lose,” explained Spiro Stefanou, professor and chair of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida.

“NAFTA is a good thing for agriculture in the U.S., broadly speaking.”

Stefanou believes the solution to Florida’s problems is innovation, not a renegotiated NAFTA deal.

“Competition scares a lot of people,” he says. “The efficient operators will make it. They can afford to make it, and they will adapt.”

Richard Bowman concedes NAFTA has helped others. But he fears unless Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers receive help, the damage to his industry may become irreversible.