WASHINGTON—One of the biggest supporters of NAFTA in the Trump administration says he’s feeling increasingly optimistic, twice telling a gathering of American lawmakers recently that he foresees a deal by the end of December.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told a hearing of the House of Representatives agriculture committee that he believes it will happen in the months following July’s presidential election in Mexico. He made that prediction again, when pressed.
“I’m more hopeful than I have been,” Perdue said. “I think we get the Mexican politics out of the way, I think we’ll have a deal before the end of the year.”
There’s been movement at the negotiating table — although less so from the Canadians, he said. But he is predicting an end result that benefits everyone: “I think probably we see more movement on Mexico’s side, than we do Canada. I believe frankly we’ll get a better deal from both of them, and preserve the benefits for all three countries.”
The context of the Feb. 6 exchange was the persistent concern in the U.S. farming industry.
American farmers have been one of the biggest winners in NAFTA, and lately have been struggling with low crop prices, and their sector has been pleading with the Trump administration not to jeopardize the trade agreement.
Perdue has been their vocal advocate within the Trump administration.
There is deep concern in the countryside that the gains in export markets achieved over the last few decades might be reversed, said the committee’s Republican chairman, Mike Conaway of Texas.
It was a concern echoed by a Democrat representing California’s fertile Central Valley, hub for the production of grapes, citrus, nuts and other products. That lawmaker, Jim Costa, saluted the cabinet secretary.
“You’ve been a voice of reason,” he told Perdue. “It’s been difficult for many of us to follow what direction the president is pursuing — whether it’s Mexico or Canada… Where are we?”
A trade negotiation takes many twists and turns, Perdue said, with all the action really happening at the end. He compared it to what happens with a bill in the U.S. Congress.
That prompted Costa to interject, tongue-in-cheek: “Don’t tell me that!”