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State agriculture chief warns against scrapping NAFTA, favors “modernization”

Migrant farmworkers live and work on Michigan farms during the harvest.
Craig Camp
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Migrant farmworkers live and work on Michgan farms during the harvest season.

One of President Trump’s key campaign promises was to rewrite the North American Free Trade Act to be a better deal with the United States, or he promised to scrap the trade pact with Canada and Mexico.

Talks are happening right now to renegotiate the trade deal, and Jamie Clover Adams wants to make sure that Michigan agriculture is protected, no matter what happens to NAFTA.

Adams is the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Listen to her conversation with Stateside’s Cynthia Canty above, or read highlights from their discussion below:

On how crucial NAFTA is to the success of Michigan’s agriculture

“[NAFTA] is absolutely vital. If you look at the data, it makes up about 38% of the exports that we have -- $2.8 billion annually -- and that supports about 26,000 jobs.”

“If we take cattle for example, what I grew up with, trade -- not just NAFTA -- trade makes up $350 a head on colored cattle. If we didn’t have trade, even though Michigan cattle don’t always go into trade, those prices would drop for Michigan farmers. So, trade is just really important for prices.”

On how ending NAFTA would impact Michigan farmers and growers

“On the Mexican side right now, NAFTA means that there are no tariffs on anything going into Mexico or coming from Mexico into the U.S. We would revert, as I understand it, back to the tariffs that existed 24, 25 years ago before NAFTA was put in place. With Canada, I would assume it would be the same, although trade isn’t as free, particularly in the dairy sector.”

On how a possible Mexican border wall would affect Michigan

“I think we’re already seeing the impacts even though it’s not built. We’re at the end of the pipeline, that’s the first thing to keep in mind. The migrants from Texas and Florida, they follow the maturing of the crops, so we’re at the end. We have seen people hunker down where they are, and they’re not coming back because perhaps they have one or two undocumented folks in their party, and they don’t want to risk it. We have seen countrywide, I think I saw data we’re at, I think, 200,000 H2A [visa] workers. We’ve seen a significant increase in H2A workers -- that’s the legal guest worker program, it’s very clunky and very old, but farmers are turning to that to ensure they have labor to pick their crops.”

On the most concerning changes that could be made to NAFTA

“We’re concerned that we protect the gains that we’ve made, that’s the first thing. So we want to make sure that we don’t erect any tariffs, for example, with Mexico because it’s tariff-free back-and-forth across the border, we’d like to keep that.”

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