Rep. Adrian Smith optimistic after NAFTA talks in Montreal, but there’s a long way to go

February 1, 2018

WASHINGTON — Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., expressed some optimism Tuesday about the future of U.S. trade talks with Canada and Mexico, while stressing that there’s a long way to go.

Smith just returned from Montreal, where he checked out the latest round of negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Smith, who represents Nebraska’s heavily agricultural 3rd District, said he made the trip to express the importance of international trade to U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“There are enough challenges facing U.S. agriculture these days, and we don’t want to undermine the successes from trade,” Smith told reporters Tuesday.

Pork producers, for example, estimate that 25 percent of the value from their products is a result of trade, he said.

Criticisms of international trade agreements, including NAFTA, were a core part of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Negotiations with Canada and Mexico have been taking place since his victory under the potential threat of a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

The potential for a sudden withdrawal rattles many agricultural producers who are struggling in the face of low commodity prices and worry that prices could drop further if they’re unable to sell as much to Mexico and Canada.

Smith is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade. During his time in Montreal, he and colleagues met with dignitaries from all three countries, including senior government officials.

Smith said his impression is that anxiety over a precipitous U.S. abandonment of NAFTA has relaxed somewhat and said there are signs of progress.

Asked about sticking points in the negotiations, he cited concerns that low wages in Mexico are giving that country an unfair advantage in auto manufacturing.

He said he understands the effort to renegotiate deals but, like other Midlands lawmakers, he has been urging the administration to take into account the potential impact on those who are benefiting from NAFTA.

“I’ve been communicating very directly and very concisely to the administration that agriculture has seen greater value, our products have seen greater value due in part to NAFTA,” he said. “We do not want to undermine that. That could end up causing even more problems in the ag economy than we are facing right now.

“Ultimately, that hurts revenues to the coffers. That can take away some of the benefits that tax reform, for example, has begun to deliver.”

Also Tuesday, three dozen senators, including all four GOP senators representing Nebraska and Iowa, wrote a letter to Trump praising his performance in office and touting the benefits of NAFTA.

“Mr. President, your leadership has jump-started our economy,” the senators wrote. “The recent tax reform bill is already leading to economic success across all industries and the stock market is at record highs. The next step to advance the economy requires that we keep NAFTA in place, but modernize it to better reflect our 21st century economy.”