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As Immigration, NAFTA Debate Plows Ahead, Farmers Say Not So Fast

Farmers in rural communities want to be part of the discussion on immigration and trade agreements. (Malcolm Carlaw/Flickr)
Farmers in rural communities want to be part of the discussion on immigration and trade agreements. (Malcolm Carlaw/Flickr)
February 7, 2017

SEATTLE – Agriculture and trade groups are voicing their concerns over President Donald Trump's stance on immigration and his threats to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump's calls to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and possibly institute a tax on Mexican imports have incited a political crisis between the two countries. He also says he'll either renegotiate NAFTA to benefit Americans or withdraw from it altogether.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the director of trade and global governance for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says instead of pitting people in one country against another, NAFTA could be replaced so that it benefits all. She says rural farmers struggle to make a living under the current agreement.

"So much of the focus has been on producing as much as possible and depending on export market," she said. "And in the process, both because of provisions on tariffs and changes in investment rules, farmers have lost bargaining power."

Hansen-Kuhn says the Trump administration needs to take public comments, and check with farmers and rural communities, before making changes to NAFTA.

Hansen-Kuhn calls Trump's plan to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. "outrageous, shortsighted and beneath us as a nation."

She says America's farm economy cannot function without those workers.

"Besides the fact that it's a wrong-headed proposal, I think it makes it pretty hard for the Mexican government to take any negotiations with the Trump administration, because people there are understandably upset," she added.

The IATP also opposes parts of the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the group supports restoring country-of-origin labeling so consumers know where the meat they're buying comes from, and it supports having more laws to regulate the "dumping" of foreign-grown fruits and vegetables into American markets, affecting local farmers' profits.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA