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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talks with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal at the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal Jan. 29.

Graham Hughes, Associated Press

Since the implementation of the North American Free-Trade Agreement in 1994, the U.S. has seen impressive benefits that should not be taken for granted. NAFTA has created countless jobs and resulted in broad economic growth in both Iowa and our country as a whole. But the time has come to update this agreement and make the trade relationships we enjoy as a result of the deal more reasonable. Thankfully, our president seems poised to do just this.

During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested getting rid of NAFTA. Since then he has softened his position, promising to renegotiate it to get the best deal for America. I wholeheartedly support the president’s desire to renegotiate NAFTA. However, it is important for Iowans to understand how beneficial the agreement has been and how many jobs and families rely on its longevity, especially in our state.

Nowhere have the benefits of NAFTA been more apparent than in rural communities across the U.S., where the agreement has been a big win for America’s agricultural sector and energy export economy. In Iowa, of the $5 billion in total food and agriculture product exports in 2016, 51 percent went to NAFTA partner countries. Last year the U.S. exported $3.2 billion worth of corn to Mexico and Canada, simultaneously supporting 25,000 industry jobs. Without NAFTA, U.S. production would most likely fall by an average of 150 million bushels annually, erasing $800 million in value and increasing the need for farm program payments by $1.2 billion.

When it comes to pork, one of Iowa’s top industries, 40 percent of U.S. export volume went to Mexico and Canada last year. An economic analysis by Iowa State University found without NAFTA, there would be a 5 percent decrease in total U.S. pork production. That would result in an aggregate industry loss of around $1.5 billion, putting more than 16,000 U.S. jobs in jeopardy. The same study found without NAFTA, $3 billion in annual soy exports would be jeopardized. Our biggest customers, Canada and Mexico, would look to our competitors in South America, who could easily undercut U.S. farmers on production costs.

While there is no doubt the agreement has been beneficial to American farmers, including those here in Iowa, I believe there is certainly room for improvement, and changes must be made. NAFTA should be brought up to date, taking into account the current trade imbalances with other partner countries. We should expand access to agricultural goods and reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers that needlessly strangle certain exports. All in all, we need a NAFTA that gets rid of needless red tape and ensures U.S. agricultural exporters are treated fairly.

Renegotiating the agreement will undoubtedly put the U.S. in a better position to correct some of the trade deficits our president has repeatedly pointed to. But, we cannot afford to go down the road of contemplating not renewing the agreement. President Trump made a promise to protect farmers, and it’s time to put his feet to the fire. The agricultural industry and our state’s economy depends on NAFTA.

NAFTA has opened markets to America’s farmers, grown domestic jobs, and supported $127 billion in annual economic activity. Iowa farmers and families have benefited tremendously from this agreement. As President Trump and his team continue negotiating and debating changes to this agreement, I hope they keep a clear eye on the positive impact NAFTA has had on our ag industry, economy, and job growth here in Iowa.

Ed Wiederstein, former president of Iowa Farm Bureau and farmer, is from Audubon.


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