Exports, access, and jobs are a key focus for accord

It doesn’t matter whether Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or the Man in the Moon is elected president of the United States on November 8. Exports, market access, and jobs have long been driving the agenda for this week’s tri-national agricultural accord meeting in Niagara Falls with Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. And that’s not about to change, regardless of who’s called the Chief of Staff.

Some level of politicking is a given when agricultural leaders from the three countries meet annually to discuss important trade and development-related priorities address challenges and opportunities for growing the agricultural sector.

But despite the posturing, they know they are each others’ best trade allies.

Indeed, North American trade takes on increased significance every time there’s a terrorism event that rocks conventional trade abroad, or a hiccup in efforts to develop new trade deals or markets, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement. With some obvious exceptions, such as the BSE disaster, trade within North America is a pretty safe bet.

This year, though, the year of the U.S. election, there’s some uneasiness about the North America Free Trade Agreement. Trump, and to a lesser extent Clinton, question whether the U.S. has lost jobs as a result of the continental accord. I suspect they have some numbers to show that’s the case, numbers that reflect the protectionist mood of American voters.

Ontario is paying attention. For it, NAFTA has been a gem. Almost $35 billion worth of exports leave our country for the U.S. and Mexico every year. Of that sum, $10.6 billion is from Ontario. If U.S. voters hear the sound of jobs and money being sucked away from their country because of it – which apparently they do, no matter which of the two major political parties they favour — trading partners will need to show why it’s good to keep the borders open.

Ontario has carved out a niche based on safety, reliability, and cleanliness, a purveyor of 200-plus commodities, grown in a wholesome environment on 52,000 family farms. That image trickles down to farm policy, which is increasingly environmental in nature. When you combine safety and cleanliness with the relatively bargain-priced loonie and proximity to the highly populated northeast U.S., Ontario officials think their province looks like a pretty attractive trading partner.

They’ve chosen an ideal venue to showcase Ontario. Niagara Falls is a natural wonder shared by two of the three countries in the accord, visited by millions, and home to a border that speaks much more of peace and the exchange of goods than hostility.

In an interview Monday, Ontario’s agriculture, food and rural affairs minister, Jeff Leal, made it clear he is committed to growing the NAFTA relationship. “Responsible trade agreements benefit all parties,” he says. “Ontario’s position is that we’re here to open doors and build relationships, not walls.”

Walls may be an issue with the U.S., especially Trump, but not with Mexico. Opposite in fact, as shown by Mexico’s embrace of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the decision in June to lift restrictions for Canadian cattle or beef from cattle over 30 months of age.

Leal says such trade relationships are how Ontario will achieve its goal of doubling exports and gaining 120,000 new jobs in agriculture by 2020. But, he adds, the whole country benefits, including businesses big and small.

Says the minister: “For the Canadian economy to prosper, an exchange of services and goods is vital.”

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