PMA "not taking anybody's side" in NAFTA renegotiations

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"They have operations in Mexico, some of our Canadian members have operations in the United States, everybody is operating everywhere," says Kathy Means, VP of industry relations at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

While her organization is based in the United States, Means makes it very clear from the outset in her interview with Fresh Fruit Portal that doesn't mean her group only looks out for U.S. interests, emphasizing the benefits of the trade agreement in providing year-round supply of across a wide range of produce items across the continent.

"We don't know a lot of specifics; we know some things that they’re interested in, and of course the Trump Administration is looking at it from the U.S. perspective in terms of increasing access to U.S. products and services, reducing barriers," she says.

"Of course Mexico and Canada will also be looking at it from their perspective as well in the renegotiations, so PMA is not taking anybody’s side on this. 

PMA VP of industry relations Kathy Means.

"We're all for free and fair trade, and figuring out how any trade agreements can be designed to continue free and fair trade for produce is important."

She says that like many industries, the produce and floral sectors have changed significantly since NAFTA was originally crafted, and the PMA will be happy to provide its input in consultations around upgrading any particular issues that may arise.

"I think there are a variety of things that may have changed like intellectual property rights or digital trade, and labor issues are always evolving...we've had a lot of changes in rules at the border, whether it be the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) or the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA)," she says.

"They continually update the sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, and that could be looked at for modernization. It’s very complicated because NAFTA isn’t just about produce. It’s complicated enough.

"It's about updating it [NAFTA], so long as we don’t take any step backwards to restrict that trade," she says.

She added there would be more details available 30 days before negotiations as required.

"The United States will be having a lot of conversations about this, whether it be public hearings, comments, whatever it may be. There will be a lot of consultations - we probably will see a Federal Register notice so that they can gather the input they need.

"We have to see what the issues are. There have been changes in labor – as you know the United States is in a labor crunch as folks have returned to their home countries because their economies have improved, or because they feel threatened by deportation.

"We hear anecdotal stories that there just aren’t enough people to harvest and pack the crop. The labor situation now is different to what it was."

When asked what road she definitely would not like to see negotiations go down, she reiterates the PMA wouldn't like to see anything that jeopardizes the global nature of the produce and floral trade.

"The United States imports a lot of produce, I believe it was over $17 billion in 2015 and Mexico and Canada are about half of that. 

"So they are significant trading partners, and retailers, foodservice operators, consumers, all rely on having that free flow of trade to have the abundant supplies that we enjoy today, to have all the variety you want at the grocery store or on the restaurant menu.

"It really does come down to accessibility, having the right product at the right time and consumers are used to the year-round supply of these product. Certainly the United States grows plenty of products in the winter but not enough to supply the whole country. 

"And there are a lot of things Canada cannot produce and relies on the United States and Mexico for those supplies...this trade among the three is kind of baked in to the business world for food. It’s critical."

Headline photo: Pixabay


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