Administration officials are continuing to try to dissuade President Trump from wrecking the North American Free Trade Agreement, but Trump’s real estate negotiating habits are proving to die hard.
That’s one way of interpreting Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s answer to a question about “making his voice heard” on the importance of NAFTA to U.S. agriculture following his speech at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn., March 3.
“I can assure you our voice is being heard on a weekly basis, and the administration hears me loudly and clearly,” said Perdue, responding to a question during a press briefing in the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show’s Media Center.
Perdue said earlier in the week he was attending a meeting at the White House about the Renewable Fuel Standard or RFS, which oil industry lobbyists have been trying to modify so they wouldn’t have to blend as much ethanol in gasoline.
“I’ve had a little bronchitis, and when the president went over into NAFTA and started talking about wouldn’t it be better if we just withdrew from it, we were all saying no, no, no, and I had a bit of a coughing fit,” said Perdue.
“The president asked me if I was all right, and I said, ‘I’m OK, Mr. President, but I get choked up every time you start talking about withdrawing from NAFTA.’”
Perdue said Trump came out of the 2016 presidential elections thinking all Americans were against NAFTA. “He soon learned how NAFTA was beneficial to most of U.S. agriculture, and we continue to press that forward.
“He came out of the real estate market in New York thinking you had to walk away from a deal to get the best deal,” said Perdue, who reportedly has had to argue the case for NAFTA on more than one occasion, including the day he was sworn into office. “He brings that into his strategy now. He’s a tough negotiator.”
The secretary said he believes U.S. trade representatives will negotiate a new, “beneficial” NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, although “the steel and aluminum tariffs that were announced will make it more difficult, frankly.”
The week after the Gin Show the secretary participated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He didn’t exactly defend the proposed 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum subsequently announced by the president.
“There are probably some legitimate concerns over trade issues,” Perdue said. “I don’t know if we could be properly soothed that he (Trump) told Mexico or Canada that this may be a way to get a NAFTA deal done, using steel tariffs in that way. But I think those of us in the agricultural sector are rightfully concerned over retaliatory measures, particularly.”
Officials with the European Union have threatened to impose counter tariffs of as much as $3.5 billion in response to the newly imposed U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, and countries in Asia have discussed similar measures.
To watch Perdue’s comments at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show press briefing, go to http://bit.ly/2FwVPt7.