By Georgina Gutierrez, Mexico; Joanna Lidback, United States; and Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, Canada
From the Covid-19 pandemic and its stay-at-home orders to the protests over police brutality and all of their controversies, this year will go down as one of the most turbulent in recent history.
At 2020’s halfway point on July 1, however, our worlds and economic lives will become a little more stable. That’s the day the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will enter into force, replacing NAFTA and allowing our three countries to enjoy orderly trade relations once again.
As farmers from each of the USMCA’s three nations, we’ve written previously about the importance of this trade agreement. In 2018 and 2019, we urged our governments and their trade diplomats to finish the deal. Now, we want to thank them for what they’ve done—and remind everyone that we should be grateful for our vital partnership.
This may be the major lesson of 2020: Take nothing for granted, whether it’s the ability to visit elderly relatives or even toilet paper on grocery-store shelves. You never know when everything will change.
For farmers across our continent, NAFTA worked well for a generation. It didn’t matter if you grew wheat on the plains of Saskatchewan in Canada, produced cheese in the hills of Vermont in the United States, or raised dairy cows in the highlands of central Mexico.
That’s what we do and where we do it—and each of us benefitted from this economic relationship.
Just as farmers prospered, so did consumers. Canada supplied us with fish and wheat. The United States offered corn and milk. Mexico grew fresh vegetables. We became each other’s biggest trading partners, exporting and importing the products our people wanted.
In some ways, though, the biggest benefit was the one that we took for granted: the idea that NAFTA always would be there.
We probably would have been happy to have NAFTA go on forever, or at least for a long time. Then came the political disruptions of 2016 and 2018, as populist presidential candidates Donald Trump in the United States and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico won their elections and questioned the purpose and potential of NAFTA.
For a while, it looked like our trade relations might collapse. Rather than allowing goods and services to flow across our borders with a negotiated efficiency, we faced the prospect of new obstacles in the form of protective tariffs and harmful regulations.
We had taken NAFTA for granted, and suddenly we were on the verge of losing it.
These difficulties forced us to confront some hard realities. For all of its benefits, NAFTA was partially obsolete. It was signed before the advent of the internet, which means it didn’t account for how the web has transformed our economies. It had little to say about biotechnology, which has reshaped agriculture with the scientific miracle of GMOs. And it also contained trade distortions, involving access to each other’s markets—minor points in the grand scheme of things, but frustrating for those of us who have to overcome them in our farming businesses.
USMCA fixes many of these points, promising a better future of more jobs, better food prices, and sustainable economic growth.
Best of all, however, is that we’ll regain the certainty that we had lost.
Nobody knows what the future holds: Will next year bring a drought? Will an earthquake shatter infrastructure? Will a new technology change the way we do business?
We do our best to anticipate what’s ahead, making plans that account for it. Yet much of it simply is beyond our control.
Trade policy, however, is entirely within the control of the leaders who represent us.
For a few years, due to the questions that surrounded North American trade ties, we struggled to know whether we’d enjoy the ability to buy and sell our products with each other.
This was a problem of our own political devising and now, thankfully, the implementation of USMCA solves it.
On July 1, let’s be glad that we have an economic agreement that will help us all—and resolve never to take it for granted again.
Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont, USA.
Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel and her husband own a diversified grain farm in Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Georgina “Gina” Gutierrez is a fifth-generation dairy farmer in the central region of Mexico.
Joanna, Cherilyn and Gina are members of the Global Farmer Network, where this column originates at www.globalfarmernetwork.org