“NAFTA has been a resounding success, and we don’t want to go backwards,” Nick Giordano said in a recent interview with Mike Adams on AgriTalk. Giordano is vice president and counsel, global government affairs, for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). He said losing access to the Mexican and Canadian markets for pork would be a “huge financial problem.”

“We’ll do whatever it takes to protect our producers,” he said.

The Mexico market represents $1.5 billion in exports from U.S. pork producers. Canada is important also, as one of the top five export markets for U.S. pork.

Last year Mexico accounted for 32% of U.S. pork export volume, with exports south of the border equating to 8% of total U.S. pork production, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Mexico is the largest volume destination for U.S. pork and ranks second to Japan in export value. NPPC states that since NAFTA went into effect Jan. 1, 1994, U.S. trade north and south of the borders has more than tripled, growing more rapidly than U.S. trade with the rest of the world.

Canada is the No. 2 market for U.S. agricultural products; Mexico is No. 3. In 2016, America’s farmers exported more than $38 billion of products to the two nations, or 28% of all U.S. agricultural exports. Those exports generated more than $48 billion in additional economic activity and supported nearly 287,000 U.S. agricultural jobs.

In terms of pork, Canada ranks fourth in both pork volume and value, accounting for about 9% of total U.S. pork exports, USMEF reports. Last year, the industry shipped almost $799 million of pork to Canada and nearly $1.4 billion to Mexico, said NPPC, and those exports help support more than 16,000 U.S. jobs.

“[A change in NAFTA] would be financially devastating for our producers,” Giordano said. “Protecting what U.S. producers have now for market access is priority one.”

When asked if there are changes the U.S. pork industry would like to see as part of a renegotiated NAFTA agreement, Giordano mentioned potential improvements with border issues, or better standardization between countries. He said if it can be improved, producers would be pleased but in general, it’s already working very well.

Even though NAFTA is a relatively old agreement (going into effect on Jan. 1, 1994), it allows tariff-free access to Canada and Mexico for U.S. pork.

“It’s working really well for [the pork industry] and U.S. agriculture,” Giordano said.

Priority in Washington
President Trump has made updating the 23-year-old trade deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico a priority since before taking office and even considered withdrawing from the agreement. The initial NAFTA renegotiation talks start tomorrow.

NPPC has been one of the leading agricultural voices in support of the agreement, issuing a white paper and twice testifying before congressional committees on the benefits of the pact.

“Canada and Mexico are top markets for our pork, so, obviously, we don’t want any disruptions in our exports to those countries; we need to keep pork trade flowing,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. in a press release on Tuesday. “We want to reiterate to the Trump administration that NAFTA has been a boon to the U.S. pork industry and to all of American agriculture.”

“U.S. pork trade with Canada and Mexico has been very robust, and we need to maintain and even improve that trade,” Maschhoff said. “We will continue to work with the administration to make sure that happens in a modernized NAFTA.”

Asia Pacific Region: U.S. Pork is Outside Looking In
All the attention on NAFTA has kept U.S. trade representatives from potential agreements with Asian Pacific countries, which also are vitally important to the pork industry. While the U.S. government has been worrying about NAFTA, the European Union has forged bilateral agreements, including one with Japan. Japan is one of the U.S. pork industry’s most important markets.

“Our future is in the Asia Pacific region,” Giordano said. “We have to get back in there.”