American farmers on edge as NAFTA negotiations show little progress

World Today

Just eight weeks remain in North American Free Trade Agreement talks between Canada, Mexico and the United States. There has been little progress and no breakthroughs, putting American farmers on edge.

As CGTN’s Dan Williams reports, many farmers depend on trade with Mexico and Canada to make their living.
Follow Dan Williams on Twitter @Danielclearcut

On a bitterly cold and snowy morning in Woodstock, Illinois the Aavang family is busy feeding cattle. Their farm has been in the family for more than 150 years, and margins are tight.

Like many, the Aavang family is on edge as the Trump administration threatens to withdraw from NAFTA.

“It would obviously curtail our exports. And that is just something we cannot afford at this time,” according to Michele Aavang. “Canada and Mexico are huge export markets for us. To have that pulled away would just be devastating.”

In 2016, the U.S. exported an estimated $43 billion worth of food and agriculture to Mexico and Canada. A change in NAFTA could mean big changes for the American agricultural sector. At a debate on the future of the trade impact, organized by global affairs think thank The Chicago Council, these concerns were on display.

“I think one of the great export success stories of the United States has been agriculture, and NAFTA was a very big part of that,” Phil Levy, a Chicago Council senior fellow, said. “It has been a sector that has benefited immensely from past liberalization. And when that is called into question, they are put at risk.”

Many US farmers have already felt a financial squeeze in recent years, with higher production costs and stagnation in commodity prices.

Carla Hills served as U.S. Trade Representative in the George HW Bush administration. She was one of the architects of NAFTA, and the importance of the agreement, she said, cannot be underestimated.

“Catastrophic. Just catastrophic for the workers and producers,” she said. “Certainly already, Mexico is looking for other sources. And once it establishes them, they are very unlikely to come back to an ally you can’t rely on. In fact, we might not be such a close ally anymore.”

Many farmers said they are all for some modernization to NAFTA. But most agree that a withdrawal places a real question over their hopes for the future.