Opinion: This is no way to negotiate a trade deal

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Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
Cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

The Sidestep,” – Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1982

I have great belief in democracy.  But let’s not mince words.  Our government is broken.

Dave Dickey

You need look no further than the dysfunctional train wreck that resulted in a governmental shutdown earlier this month to see that it is no longer possible for Congress and the White House to do anything in a bipartisan manner that serves Americans, farmers included.

If Charles During’s “Sidestep” jingle seems familiar – well we’ve seen it playing out in real life over the last year on issues small and big, including the current negotiations over re-authorizing the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

Earlier this month NAFTA dysfunction at the White House sent shock waves through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hog futures after Canadian sources suggested the U.S, will soon announce plans to pull out of NAFTA, putting the odds over 50 percent.  CME Hog futures fell to their lowest level since last November on the news.

Canada certainly must be expressing mounting internal frustration over the inability to find compromise with the U.S., if not downright disbelief and puzzlement over how there is mismatching NAFTA with other POTUS domestic priorities.

Earlier this month,  POTUS told the Washington Journal that he would use NAFTA to make good his campaign promise to pay for new wall construction along the U.S. southern border with Mexico:

“They (Mexico) can pay for it indirectly through NAFTA. We make a good deal on NAFTA, and, say, ‘I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going toward the wall.’ Guess what? Mexico’s paying.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly had his own take on the POTUS wall-funding plan saying his boss’s campaign promise on the wall may well be “uninformed” and that it’s unrealistic to ever expect Mexico to pay for the POTUS wall.

So it’s not all that unreasonable for Canada and Mexico to ask “what the hell is going on?”

Deep breaths. The way I see it here are the options for how NAFTA negotiations conclude.

  1. The president serves notice to withdraw from NAFTA, triggering a six-month time clock. The six-month window galvanizes the three nations to come to some sort of deal, based on the U.S. signaling specifically what it will take to stay in the agreement.
  2. The POTUS withdraws from NAFTA but Congress throws up roadblocks to stop/slow down the plan under its U.S. constitutional power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations.”I would also expect pro-trade groups to challenge POTUS in district courts over whether the president has the power to unilaterally end U.S. NAFTA involvement.
  3. U.S. participation in NAFTA is stick a fork in it crispy toast. Under this eventuality expect tariffs and prices to rapidly increase, cutting into U.S. corporation and farmer profits.

Right now I have little faith that the POTUS – especially after his nixing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and despite warnings from ag state lawmakers on the perils facing American farmers without NAFTA – is truly invested in three-way trade between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

And given the current political headwinds – dysfunction in the White House, distrust in Congress, not to mention the upcoming elections in Mexico and the November midterm elections in the U.S.  –  if there is a NAFTA deal to be had don’t expect it until 2019 at the earliest.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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