Withdrawing from a free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would cause long-term harm to Nebraska farmers and ranchers and put a big dent in the state’s economy, the Nebraska Farm Bureau said in a new report.
For the first time, the agriculture lobby group looked to put an approximate dollar figure on the value of exports to those countries at the county level and individual farm level.
Four top-producing ag counties — Platte, Cuming, Custer and Holt — are estimated to export more than $30 million each in commodities to Canada and Mexico, exports that could significantly slow without free-trade rules in place. Only two Nebraska counties are estimated at less than $1 million in export value to those nations.
And on the farm level, the value of trade in North America works out to as much as $55,500 per farm in Phelps County, or as little as $5,300 per farm in Dawes County. The figures are estimates, the report said, noting the difficulty of tracing value to the county or farm level because, for example, a bushel of corn might be grown in one place, sold in another and processed in a third.
The report, released Monday, is the industry’s latest effort to convince the public, and President Donald Trump, that Trump’s threat to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement is a negotiation tactic best not acted on.
“While we understand the president wants to get the best trade deal possible, the idea of withdrawing from NAFTA is unfathomable,” Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said. “Farm and ranch families are already working through a struggling agriculture economy and the loss of NAFTA would undercut recovery and more importantly cause long-term damage.”
The report’s author, Nebraska Farm Bureau economist Jay Rempe, said NAFTA provides vital demand for key exports such as beef, pork, soybeans and corn.
Mexico and Canada are Nebraska’s two biggest export customers for agricultural goods, together buying about 45 percent of the state’s total ag exports.
The ag industry is trying to sway Trump, who called NAFTA the worst trade deal ever, citing a loss of manufacturing jobs and a trade deficit — meaning the United States buys more than it sells.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently characterized the idea of harm from a withdrawal as an empty threat from agriculture.