CEO panel
November 7, 2017

Dairy Leaders: Losing NAFTA Is Not an Option

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Over the past several months President Trump has made several threats to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). During the Farm Journal’s MILK Business conference in Las Vegas this week, dairy leaders made it clear that they will not accept the Trump Administration walking away.

“I don't think that's a result that U.S. agriculture is going to accept at the end of the day,” says Tom Vilsack former Secretary of Agriculture and current CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. ”I think the responsibility for the administration is to figure out creatively how to get the job done and they were right to raise the issue of modernizing and renegotiating they have to but now they have to bring it home.”

According to Vilsack, the fact that negotiators took a longer break in between discussions indicate they are preparing to get serious about compromises to find middle ground and get the deal done. While the break between discussions was elongated, the length of the next round of talks which will start November 15 was also extended.

Jim Mulhern, CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation says the Mexican market is too important to U.S. dairy markets to lose.

“I don't think failure is an option here for us in agriculture,” he says. “Mexico is the number one market for a number of us. It's not just dairy but it's also corn, it is right up there for soybeans, pork and beef. It's a hugely important market. We can't afford to have to go.”

While it may not always seem like President Trump understands how important NAFTA is to U.S. agriculture, Michael Dykes CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association says Washington is beginning to understand there’s too much at stake.

“I think there's just too much here to walk away from,” Dykes says. “I think the administration knows that and there have been some progress made on some of the other underlying issues that never get talked about.”

While Dykes admits there are difficult issues that need to be resolved as part of the negotiations, he’s optimistic negotiators will come to an agreement and get the deal done. Vilsack reiterated the importance food and agriculture has the economy.

Almost three million jobs impact and are affected by this industry and hundreds of billions of dollars impact directly on the economy,” he says. “You're talking about the single largest employer in the country. We can't afford to jeopardize 23 million jobs simply because we can't figure out a creative way to get to yes. I don't think the administration that has focused on better trade deals and focused on jobs can afford to walk away from that.”


More from the panel of the three dairy CEOs at the MILK Business Conference to come later this week on, AgDay TV and this week on U.S. Farm Report.