U.S.-Mexico ag trade relationship shows signs of strain

By Jennifer Whitlock

Mexico is one of the United States’ largest trading partners, but recent developments in that nation’s food and agriculture trade policies have American agribusiness and food associations concerned.

In a letter sent recently to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, 27 food and agriculture associations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), voiced concerns regarding the “quickly deteriorating trade relationship” between the two countries.

“Mexico is one of America’s most important food and agriculture trade partners. NAFTA yielded strong benefits to both countries, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) promises to build upon those gains,” the letter stated. “Yet, the food and agriculture trade relationship with Mexico has declined markedly, a trend USMCA’s implementation has not reversed.”

The associations represent much of the food and agriculture sector that is responsible for roughly one-fifth of U.S. economic activity and directly supports nearly 15 percent of total U.S. employment. More than one-third, 35 percent, of U.S. farm income comes from agricultural and food exports, according to a 2017 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service report.

Access to foreign markets is essential to continuing robust food and agriculture industries in the U.S., the groups said.

In Texas, the stakes are even higher.

Sharing a border with Mexico means a staggering amount of trade with the neighboring nation. As a result, Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner, accounting for about 35 percent of Texas exports in 2018 (https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/state/data/tx.html#ctry).

Of the more than $110 billion in exports to Mexico from Texas that year, Farmers for Free Trade data shows $3.6 billion came from agricultural exports, including meat products, fruits, tree nuts, crops and dairy products.

Several issues between Mexico and the U.S. were discussed in the letter, including a recent ban on the use of genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate.

Increasing obstacles to dairy trade, organic export certification requirements, a state-sponsored U.S. corn sweetener disparagement campaign, an abrupt ending of biotechnology approvals, consequences of recent meat industry market access and geographical indications, an import ban on U.S. potatoes and new front-of-pack labeling regulations were also highlighted by the groups.

“AFBF is extremely concerned with the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and our neighbors to the south. We built strong trade ties with Mexico through NAFTA and improved upon them with USMCA, but recent moves by Mexico to limit American imports and to undercut prices in the U.S. puts America’s farmers and ranchers at a competitive disadvantage,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “We urge Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Tai to engage with Mexico and enforce the agreements between our two countries to ensure farmers have a level playing field and continue to lead the world in producing safe, affordable food.”

Additional groups that signed the letter included the American Soybean Association, Corn Refiners Association, International Dairy Foods Association, North American Meat Institute, National Grain & Feed Association and the U.S. Dairy Export Council, among others.

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