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Replacement of NAFTA especially good for NY farmers, advocates say

WBFO file photo

President Donald Trump on Monday hailed a tentative agreement involving the United States, Canada and Mexico that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. While it's not yet a done deal, early local feedback suggests an updated deal will be especially good for New York State's economy, especially in agriculture.

Trump calls the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) the "biggest agreement" in the nation's history and treats American workers more fairly than NAFTA.

Among the biggest gainers under the new deal, according to many, are farmers. In New York State, news of an updated North American trade deal is being hailed as a benefit to agriculture, including apples, possibly maple syrup (New York is the second-largest producer in the nation behind Vermont) and especially dairy products.

New York's dairy production is the largest agricultural output in the state and the third-largest in the nation, according to Lauren Williams of the New York Farm Bureau. She is among those who hope an updated international trade deal with Canada will level the playing field for New York's milk and dairy producers.

"One of the issues was Canada had created a new class 7 pricing (for dairy products such as  protein concentrates, skim milk and whole milk powder), which essentially excluded the export of products from the US," she explained. "That impacted some dairy farmers in New York who had established markets in Canada."

The state's agricultural economy is estimated at $5 billion annually. Williams says about half of that is dairy alone. 

While Trump has called NAFTA "the worst trade deal ever made," local trade and commerce advocates don't necessarily share that opinion.  

NAFTA, according to local trade and commerce advocates, has actually worked well for the Western New York economy

Dottie Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, suggests NAFTA has actually worked well for Western New York, which relies on multiple cross-border exchanges of components as part of the manufacturing process. But she and her organization welcome updates to trade deals.

"I understand the president wanted to improve some elements of it and hopefully it's achieved with this renegotiation," she said. 

But tariffs - especially those imposed on steel and aluminum - remain a concern to Gallagher.

"Our neighbors to the north, in Hamilton, that's really the center of steel in Canada. They've been a huge supplier to the US. The president's original intent, I think, was to prevent some of the cheap steel that was coming from China but it was sort of throwing out the baby with the bath water," she said. "It's in our best interest nationally and regionally that it gets resolved.

"What Washington is saying now is they're still having those talks separate and outside of this agreement."

Craig Turner, president of the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, sees an updated trade deal as a "win-win" for parties involved. He agrees with Gallagher that NAFTA, though not perfect, worked well for Western New York. But he supports the notion that it needed updates.

"Job titles and lines that existed 25 years ago don't exist today. There are industries nobody was even thinking about 25 years ago that are common today," he said. "We needed to re-address it."

Among the items he would have liked to see resolved by Sunday's midnight deadline was workforce mobility and immigration issues that would make it easier to move workers who may service the products sold across a border.

"But from everything that I've seen so far, this is going to be good for not only all three countries but for our region too," Turner said. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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