ND ag groups discuss trade at Mexican embassy
WASHINGTON -- A group of North Dakota farmers and ranchers had breakfast at the Mexican embassy on Wednesday, June 6, to further trade relationships and to ensure the Mexican ambassador that the state and the country remain committed to trade and...
WASHINGTON - A group of North Dakota farmers and ranchers had breakfast at the Mexican embassy on Wednesday, June 6, to further trade relationships and to ensure the Mexican ambassador that the state and the country remain committed to trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The meeting, organized by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, included the following representatives from North Dakota agriculture groups:
• Steve Edwardson, executive administrator of the North Dakota Barley Council.
• Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.
• Mark Seastrand, board member of the North Dakota Barley Council.
• Jeff Mertz, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.
• Carson Klosterman, president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.
• Jay Doan, with the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
• Jim Callan, policy advisor with the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.
Heitkamp says the conversations at the meeting involved the importance of the Mexican market for many North Dakota ag products. Specifically, she says they talked about North Dakota barley that goes to Mexico for Constellation Brands, which brews Corona, about the emerging market in Mexico for U.S. edible beans, about general trade concerns for wheat growers, and about the specialty cut market for U.S. beef.
She calls the meeting "wildly successful."
"The ambassador laid out a pretty compelling case for why they want to continue to trade," she says.
Mertz found the Mexican ambassador, Gerónimo Gutiérrez, to be articulate and accommodating and found the morning event to be more substantive and less "smoke and mirrors" that often make up such political conversations.
"He knows the importance of free trade and conveyed that to us," he says.
Mertz says the back-and-forth nature of trade makes free trade important to both countries. Barley from North Dakota and other U.S. states goes to Mexico, and Corona beer comes back, just as parts for manufacturing may flow among the three North American countries.
"It's very crucial for American farmers," Mertz says.
He says the North Dakota producers on hand at the event made their case for continuing business with Mexico, and Gutiérrez along with Mexico's NAFTA negotiators expressed their support for continuing their agreement to ensure a constant, stable food supply for their country.
The breakfast came at a time of continuing tensions over the renegotiation of NAFTA. Trump administration officials have brought up the possibility of the U.S. dealing bilaterally with Canada and Mexico, and Mexico has announced tariffs on a range of U.S. products in retaliation for tariffs on Mexican steel and aluminum that President Donald Trump announced last week.
Heitkamp says when heated conversations happen behind closed doors, often the people in the negotiating rooms forget that there are people outside the walls relying on what happens within. Continuing to foster relationships with foreign markets is important.
"I think any amount of goodwill we can interject into that process is a good step forward," she says.
While much of trade talks revolve around trade agreements, tariffs and trade law, Heitkamp says meeting people and talking about what our country has to offer is just as important.
"At the end of the day, a big part of trade is trade relationships," she says.
Heitkamp says she's been meeting regularly with Gutiérrez, as well as with business leaders in Mexico to reassure them of the commitment of the U.S. and North Dakota in particular to NAFTA.
"Ag is a huge part of our export markets out of North Dakota," she says.
Mertz says trade continues to be a big issue for agriculture in general. He would like to see the U.S. rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership and wrap up the NAFTA renegotiation. But while he and others in ag may not agree fully with Trump's view on trade, he says many still support the president's methods and hope it pays off in the long run.
"You're not going to agree with an individual 100 percent of the time," he says.
The Wednesday meeting, Heitkamp says, was an opportunity to let producers tell the story of North Dakota agriculture and the importance of trade.
"I was so proud of our North Dakota producers," she says. "They sold North Dakota like no one can."