The Canadian consul general to the Midwest is urging Missouri farmers to voice their support for renegotiating the North American Free-Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
Consul General John Cruickshank spoke Monday at the Higginsville Community Center, an event organized by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
“We have been knocking on a closed door,” Cruickshank said, referring to President Donald Trump’s recent public statements in which he said he won’t sign a new NAFTA deal with Mexico and Canada until after the midterm elections.
That decision, along with tariffs the U.S. has imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum, is resulting in a tense relationship with a longtime U.S. ally; Canada placed retaliatory tariffs Sunday on American goods like beef, steel and aluminum.
And Canada is Missouri’s top export market, with the national Chamber of Commerce noting that $432 million worth of exported goods are affected by Canada’s tariffs, including fungicides and herbicides.
This discussion comes amid a broader trade war with China as well. And it worries farmers who attended Monday’s discussion.
“We're kind of maybe be being used as somewhat of a pawn in the negotiations,” said Don Schlesselman, who raises cattle and grows corn and soybeans.
Schlesselman, said he wants a better a trade deal, but notes that the tariffs are happening at a time when commodity prices have been low. Corn and soybean prices are down at least 15 percent since mid-April.
“It's not like we've got a lot of wiggle room to give up a lot of profit margin at this time,” said Schlesselman, who is on the board of the Lafayette County Cattlemen's Association and MFA Incorporated.
Cruickshank made a point to explain to the farmers and residents at the event that Canada wants to renegotiate NAFTA, saying the U.S. and Canadian economies are “deeply intertwined.”
“Trade is all about growth. And growth denied, farmers know what that’s about — that’s a period of decay and stagnation. And nobody wants that,” Cruickshank said.
Cleaver, who is up for re-election in November, said the trade war will affect farmers and manufacturers in his district, which is why he organized this event.
“Because we have become so tribal in our politics in this country, the one thing that we're going to have to do is have the farming community — because they support Donald Trump in a very, very powerful way — to call Washington and say to the president … they are not happy with the direction that he's taking this country as it relates to the tariffs,” Cleaver said.
A May report from the Pew Research Center showed Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are nearly split on whether free trade agreements are “a good thing,” but 58 percent of Republicans have a positive view of increase in tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Lafayette County farmer David Lueck said the market instability already is affecting his corn, soybean and cattle operations but hopes renegotiating trade deals will help his business in the long-term.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.