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View From The Hill: US National Farmers Union talks trade

Potential market size for agricultural produce is less significant to US trade negotiators than the importance of making a trade deal, according to US National Farmers Union (USNFU) president Roger Johnson, writes John Wilkes.

This may apply to some UK food market sectors following any future US/UK free trade agreement (FTA).

 

Mr Johnson, who was speaking after a recent questions and answers session at the union’s Washington DC headquarters, cited American dairy exports to Canada as an example.

 

US farmers are eager for trade access despite the size of proposed market share – worth just 3.5 per cent of the Canadian dairy market.

 

Canada’s dairy market is equivalent to about 10 per cent of the US’.

 

Mr Johnson said: “Though pretty tiny, our trade negotiators fought tooth and nail over it anyway. A lot of fulmination goes on over small amounts.

 

“Every deal is not standalone. It is about trying to build a set of expectations that will be used in different markets.”

 

A difference in perspective on trade was highlighted.


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Mr Johnson said the American Farm Bureau was ‘very much about free trade – no matter what. I do not think [Farm Bureau president] Zippy Duvall would disagree with this characterisation.”

 

Policy

 

Mr Johnson explained how NFU trade policy differed, saying a country should be allowed to retain the right to determine its own domestic policy and sovereignty.

 

He said diligence must be followed in terms of high standards for food and animal welfare.

 

However, individual countries should maintain the right to decide what works best. He said a country should be able to say, ‘we just do not want that here’.

 

It would be difficult to make amendments if rules and regulations were standardised around the world.

 

If facts change, compliance to agreed protocols would be complicated in an FTA scenario.

 

Mr Johnson added: “We are not a one world government type organisation.”

 

The USNFU promotes high labour standards such as slower line speeds at abattoirs and safe worker conditions. One important goal is to ensure production is not ‘forced into the poorest places where workers are exploited – to the greatest degree possible’.

 

Imports

 

The USNFU was seeking to avoid imports from countries which disregard the negative environmental impact of its food production.

 

Mr Johnson said: “As a world, you are not better off if you buy cheap stuff and dump sewage all over the place,” adding all countries were obligated to make sure ‘any ill effect does not spill over borders’.

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