This week, he’s attempting to renegotiate KORUS, the agreement between the US and South Korea, while at the same time engaging in multiple rounds of negotiation with Canada and Mexico over NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). And farmers aren’t happy about it.
Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed NAFTA, calling it “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” in a debate with 2016 election opponent Hillary Clinton, and during recent negotiations with Canada and Mexico indicated that simply terminating the United States’ presence in the trade deal is still wholly on the table. (This is, incredibly, within Trump’s power.) As for KORUS, he has called it “a horrible deal,” pointing to a trade deficit between the two countries. (There are lots of reasons for this, not all of which are totally the fault of the trade deal; for example, Americans seem more eager to buy Hyundais and Kias than South Koreans are to buy Fords and Chevys.)
Agriculture has always been sort of an odd duck within free trade agreements. In NAFTA, there are actually separate deals among all three countries regulating tariffs on agricultural goods, with different categories given their own, separate rules. Between Canada and the U.S., for example, dairy is protected; U.S. dairy producers are slapped with a tariff when trying to sell their goods above a certain quota. Despite bits of weirdness like that, the news that Trump is aggressively attempting to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA has sent farmer groups into a panic.
“Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture. We cannot disrupt trade with two of our top trade partners and allies. This decision will cost America’s farmers and ranchers markets that we will never recover,” wrote Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, in a release. “Without mincing words, initiating a process to withdraw from NAFTA is a terrible idea, and it will only mean a longer and more difficult struggle for farmers to recover in this economy,” wrote Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA).
The fear is that a withdrawal from NAFTA, which would hurt the ability of Canadian and Mexican farmers to sell their goods in the US, would spark retaliation against the US in the form of tariffs and quotas. Mexico is the top export partner for corn (and exports hold 31 percent of the total market). Mexico is also the second biggest buyer of American soybeans, and Canada is the third.
And who’s the first? South Korea. The ASA, rightfully concerned that a change in KORUS could affect the 600,000 tons of soybeans that head from American farms to South Korea, issued a statement this week condemning any withdrawal. “As American soybean farmers, we demand that the U.S. remain in KORUS, and that we move forward to negotiate new trade agreements rather than retreating from existing ones,” wrote Ron Moore in a statement. And it’s not just soy beans: the U.S. exported more than $6.2 billion in agricultural products to South Korea last year.
Negotiations for both KORUS and NAFTA are ongoing.