Progress made on agriculture text in 3rd round of NAFTA talks

Negotiators have made some progress on agriculture-related topics during the third round of NAFTA negotiations in Ottawa this week.

A full day of discussions on agriculture took place on Tuesday, with more planned for Wednesday.

The U.S. introduced a “consolidated text” for agriculture, compiled from the three countries’ individual submissions, according to a source who was briefed on the negotiations. The ag negotiators worked through as many as 11 of the 18 articles in the agriculture text on Tuesday.

As expected, much of the agriculture discussion has been focused on reducing regulatory issues that affect trade. The U.S. has yet to table text on dairy or supply management, according to Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Brian Innes and Cam Dahl in Ottawa at the third round of NAFTA negotiations.

“What we’re seeing here in the third round is we’re definitely progressing on agriculture, as well as negotiations on all of the chapters, and that means we’re getting to some points of agreement on some items,” says Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, which represents export-oriented commodity groups. (Listen to our conversation below.)

Traditionally the portions of text that countries don’t agree on are left in the document in square brackets.

“We are going to come out of Ottawa with some square brackets, but that doesn’t mean significant progress hasn’t been made. I think we’re moving ahead,” says Cam Dahl, president Cereals Canada.

“We’re seeing progress on some of the key fronts that we’re looking for, some of those points around harmonization on crop input approvals, variety approvals, harmonization around regulation, and we’re also not seeing signs that we’re going to slip back into a more protectionist environment for the grain sector,” continues Dahl.

Related: No mention of dairy yet in NAFTA talks

With political uncertainty hanging over the entire NAFTA renegotiation process, both Dahl and Innes are optimistic about the spirit of the talks.

“The tone and the pace of the negotiations is still extremely positive. No matter what happens in the political back and forth in public, I think at this level, where the work of the negotiation is being done, it’s being done in a very positive atmosphere,” says Dahl.

“The American administration is still relatively young,” notes Innes. “For things to come to the negotiating table they often have to go through processes within government. In Canada, we’re seeing that function a lot quicker and a lot more smoothly than what we sense from the United States.”

The third round of NAFTA talks will wrap up on Wednesday after bilateral and trilateral meetings between U.S. Trade Secretary Robert Lighthizer, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Round four is slated for Washington in October.

Brian Innes and Cam Dahl discuss the progress on agriculture during the third round of NAFTA talks, here:

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