MERIDA — Scores of U.S. and Mexican government officials and media representatives descended on Merida this week for a two-day mini-summit between the agriculture secretaries of the two countries.
The message of both U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Mexican counterpart Jose Calzada Rovirosa at a packed press conference Friday July 28 was that free trade in agricultural products has been a tremendous economic boon for both countries since the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.
But looming behind the rosy picture painted by the two top ag officials was the shadow of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose well-known disdain for the NAFTA trade pact has created high anxiety in the farm sectors of both countries.
Responding to a question about whether agriculture could be a bargaining chip in Trump’s effort to protect hard-hit U.S. manufacturing from low-cost foreign competition, Perdue said: “As a former farmer, I can tell you that farmers worry about everything… While there is anxiety…, I hope that agriculture can be a model of cooperation between our two countries.”
But Perdue acknowledged that the future of free agricultural trade between Mexico and the U.S. will be a hot topic when negotiations to restructure NAFTA commence on Aug. 16 at Trump’s behest. Trump has vowed to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA if it can’t be renegotiated to his liking.
“The U.S. trade representative (Robert Lighthizer) will be our lead negotiator,” Perdue said. “We want agriculture to be a lubricant, not an impediment” in the talks.
In introductory remarks, Calzada said NAFTA has been “an important instrument for growth and improvement” in Mexico, citing a 9 percent annual rise in agricultural trade each year since 1994.
Later answering a question, Calzada contended that NAFTA has been a “great opportunity” for Mexico largely responsible for an increase in Mexican exports to the U.S. from $4 billion USD in 1994 to $24 billion USD in 2016.
While in Yucatan Perdue also met privately Thursday with Calzada at Hacienda San Pedro Ochil and particpated in a panel discussion at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya Friday. The U.S. official also visited a pork producing facility and toured Mayan ruins.
By Robert Adams for TYT
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