Trump and Perdue in NAFTA cop show routine

by Josh Sosland
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Josh Sosland
Among issues generating angst in the grain-based foods industry since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement ranks near the top. Given his constant railing against NAFTA over the course of the presidential campaign, it wasn’t a surprise last week that the president informed Congress he intends to renegotiate the 23-year-old trade pact. The letter describes the administration’s commitment to securing benefits for U.S. consumers, businesses, farmers, ranchers and workers.

Helping ease the industry’s concern over the announcement were steps taken earlier in the month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As part of a reorganization of the U.S.D.A., Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the creation of the position of undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. The move generated bipartisan support and confidence that agricultural interests would not be jettisoned for the sake of populist protectionist policies. Mr. Perdue was measured in his response to the formal announcement NAFTA would be renegotiated. “While NAFTA has been an overall positive for American agriculture, any trade deal can always be improved,” he said.

The contrast with the president’s rhetoric could hardly be greater. “I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States … I am going to either renegotiate it, or I am going to terminate it.” These remarks are not from the campaign. They were shared with an Associated Press reporter in late April. The president seemed not to be retreating an inch from his “bad cop” approach to NAFTA.
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