By Joanna Lidback, Cherilyn Nagel and Georgina Gutierrez
We come from three different countries and our farms are quite different, but we also speak with one voice: Farmers need NAFTA.
This week, as trade diplomats meet in Mexico City to engage in a seventh round of NAFTA talks, we hope our political leaders will listen to a simple message from three women who farm in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Let’s improve NAFTA, not abandon it.
The time has come to modernize this excellent trade agreement. Across our shared continent, NAFTA has helped millions of producers and consumers. Like an upgrade from a land-line telephone to the latest smart phone, however, we believe it would benefit from an update.
So we’re asking the representatives from our governments to quit the public posturing and the issuing of threats—and strike a new deal that strengthens NAFTA for the 21st century. This will take cooperation and compromise. If our leaders do a good job, they just might forge a trade pact that will be the envy of the world.
On the surface, the three of us may not appear to have much in common. Our homes are far apart and nothing like each other. We live in the hills of Vermont, the plains of Saskatchewan, and the highlands of central Mexico. We raise dairy cows, corn, and wheat. We cheer for different sports teams, especially during the ice hockey games of the Winter Olympics and the soccer matches of the World Cup.
And yet Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans also depend on each other. We always have: It makes sense for neighbors to trade with neighbors.
Over the last quarter century, we’ve traded more often and in more ways than ever before. Our economies are no longer separate, but deeply integrated. This is the major legacy of NAFTA—and turning back the clock on this remarkable progress would come with a high cost.
Farmers would lose income from vanished export markets. Consumers would see their food prices jump. Everyone would complain about what went wrong—and wonder why we had given up on something so good.
NAFTA is one of the best trade agreements ever negotiated. It allows goods and services to flow across our borders without having to pay the high tariffs—a euphemism for “taxes”—that often prevent producers and consumers from doing business.
This is especially true for food. Americans and Canadians want Mexican avocados and bell peppers. Canadians and Mexicans want American corn and milk. Americans and Mexicans want Canadian seafood and wheat.
For farmers who rely on selling our products to people in other countries, NAFTA provides us with more opportunities to generate income. It lets us reach new markets and grow our operations, securing economic sustainability for years to come.
About half of all North Americans live in the United States, about 323 million people. Mexico has roughly 127 million people and Canada approximately 36 million.
There’s power in these numbers. As farmers, we’re much more interested in selling to this big market than to merely a fraction of it.
If North American trade were to slow down and stop, we’d possibly find other trade partners. In recent months, in fact, both Canada and Mexico have worried that NAFTA might come to an end—and so they’ve worked aggressively to locate suppliers of the agricultural goods and other products that they traditionally have bought from Americans.
Yet nothing makes more sense than the economic partnership of NAFTA. Neighbors ought to trade with each other, and not just because it’s neighborly. Our close proximity, combined with the reliable links of road and rail, lets us transport our products efficiently.
When we work together, we enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage against our competitors in Asia, Europe, and South America. NAFTA saves money for everyone and offers opportunities for farmers in its three member nations to reach new markets and grow their operations, securing economic sustainability for generations to come.
Take it from three women who farm for a living: NAFTA helps us all.
Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont.
Cherilyn 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 (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).