Group Presents NAFTA Message on Capitol Hill: “Mend It or End It”
Last week, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard participated on a panel on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) to discuss the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations. Panelists also included Zachary Mottl, Chief Alignment Officer of Atlas Tool; Keigan Mull, Trade Counsel for the House Committee on Ways and Means; and Mike Dolan, Trade Policy Specialist for the Teamsters.
Bullard told the audience of congressional staffers, Administration representatives, domestic manufacturers, organized labor, and other agriculturalists that if substantial reforms cannot be made to reverse the cattle and beef trade deficit, as well as the deficit in all other agricultural and related products, NAFTA should be ended.
Using a series of slides, Bullard first presented the evidence used by NAFTA supporters who are pushing back on the Trump Administration’s efforts to make substantive changes to NAFTA.
He said most of agriculture’s corporate-aligned groups point only to the fact that U.S. exports of agricultural products have increased fourfold since NAFTA, increasing from about $10 billion to over $40 billion.
“This, they say, is proof positive that NAFTA should only be tweaked, without making any substantive changes,” he said.
However, Bullard charges that NAFTA supporters are purposely withholding information about the corresponding rise in imports, which he said have offset the gains made by exports.
“As a result of imports increasing faster than exports, the U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico in the trade of agricultural and related products increased from a negative $2 billion prior to NAFTA to a negative $18 billion today.
“This ninefold increase in the trade deficit with Canada and Mexico is weakening America’s rural economy, which also weakens our overall economy.
“For the past four years the trade deficit in the trade of cattle and beef has exceeded $2 billion, which puts tremendous downward pressure on the economic strength of the U.S. cattle industry, which is the largest segment of American agriculture,” he said.
Bullard contends the domestic sheep industry, which saw its domestic production decline by more than half because of imbalanced trade, predicts the future of the domestic cattle industry if NAFTA and other trade agreements are not substantially changed.
Bullard’s charts reveal that during NAFTA’s tenure, the number of U.S. cattle operations declined 20 percent, the number of U.S. feedlots declined 75 percent, the U.S. cattle herd size fell to the lowest level in over 70 years, and the production of domestic beef fell to the lowest level since before NAFTA was implemented.
The substantive changes Bullard wants to see in NAFTA to reverse the decline of the U.S. cattle industry include the immediate reinstatement of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) so U.S. consumers can choose to buy beef produced from U.S. farmers and ranchers, implementation of tariffs on beef, cattle, sheep and lamb for countries that maintain persistent trade surpluses in these products, modification of NAFTA’s rule of origin to reserve the U.S. label only for beef from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; and, the inclusion of special safeguards to protect the supply-sensitive cattle industry from import surges.