Paul Connors

A Canadian government official says the current round of NAFTA negotiations underway in Montreal is “pivotal” to the future of the agreement.

Paul Connors, Canada’s Consul General for the Upper Midwest, is attending the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but as we look at it I think by next Monday we’re either into a scenario where we’ve hopefully made significant progress and we can get this over the line for March 31 or we won’t have made significant progress and then we’ll all have to dig in and get back to the negotiations,” Connors said during an interview with Brownfield Ag News.

Round six of NAFTA re-negotiations began this past Sunday. One sticking point in the negotiations is Canada’s supply management system for dairy farmers. Connors said that’s one of the “paradoxes” of NAFTA since the accord went into effect 24 years ago.

“We’ve seen significant progress, significant removals of tariffs and barriers to trade — and significant integration has been in the ag sector,” Connors said. “But paradoxically within the ag sector there is a few areas where both countries derogated some areas. Canada maintains its supply management system and USDA maintains a number of support programs.”

NAFTA wasn’t “complete free trade,” according to Connors, and he said negotiators from all three countries will be pushing “to try to open up the ag sector a bit more.” Connors said the trading relationship among the three countries is important not only nationally, but in Iowa as well.

“The United States’ largest two customers — export markets — are Canada and Mexico. That’s your NAFTA. If you just do the ag sector, the United States’ largest two markets are Canada and Mexico,” Connors said. “If we talk about our friends here in Iowa, you largest two exports states are Canada and Mexico and on ag it’s Mexico, Canada and Japan.”

Iowa’s top ag export to Canada is animal feed and Canada’s top export to Iowa is live animals and more than 90 percent of those are hogs. In return, Iowa’s number three ag export to Canada is fresh and frozen pork.

“The pork integrated trade between our countries is the epitome of what we’ve accomplished under NAFTA,” Connors said. “…I think that’s why you see the National Pork Producers Association, the National Pork Board and the Iowa Pork Producers Association speaking out and saying: ‘We need a new and improved NAFTA. Let’s not get rid of it.'”

Connors indicated Canadians “would like to be optimists” about the propects that NAFTA will be renegotiated rather than scrapped.

(Additional reporting by Ken Anderson of Brownfield Ag News)