Farm secretary touts NAFTA's success

Agreement is 'good for U.S. agriculture,' Perdue says

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President Donald Trump may be eyeing a NAFTA exit, but his agriculture secretary is trying to get him to see the merits of the trade deal.

Secretary Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he’s been trying to convince the Trump administration the North American Free Trade Agreement is “good for U.S. agriculture.” The trade deal just has some “rough edges” that need to be smoothed for improvement, he said during a presentation at an industry event in Decatur, Ill.

The United States is one of the world’s biggest agricultural exporters, and Canada and Mexico are major buyers. Tearing up the 23-year-old deal between the neighboring countries could put Trump at odds with his rural base, with farmers and ranchers dependent on trade for their livelihood.

Companies including Cargill, which has facilities in Cedar Rapids, and Tyson Foods — the largest U.S. meat company has operations in Stockton and Waterloo — have called on the administration to protect agriculture during the negotiations.

“I talked to him this morning, actually,” Perdue said of his conversations with Trump. “He’s concerned about American agriculture,” but he’s also concerned about trade deficits in other parts of the economy, particularly in automobiles and manufacturing, he said.

Perdue said he hopes the administration can find a solution that “reconciles” and “resolves those issues.”

Since its adoption, the North American Free Trade Agreement has knit the three agricultural economies more tightly, with effects ranging from cattle being raised and processed across borders to U.S. dependence on Mexican avocados for guacamole at Super Bowl parties.

A second round of negotiations on the accord is scheduled to begin today in Mexico City.

Perdue said Wednesday the primary concerns he’s been hearing from farmers on the NAFTA talks are issues regarding labor, regulations and trade. His comments echoed similar remarks from earlier this year.

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