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Pa. farmers press case for keeping NAFTA

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Pennsylvania farmers are defending the North American Free Trade Agreement amid ongoing negotiations to change the deal and threats to kill it outright.

While farmers have benefited from NAFTA, they and their advocates are open to changes. But in a conference call this week, they stopped short of citing specific adjustments they would like to see. 

NAFTA has been more favorable to some sectors than others. Agriculture, for example, has flourished under the agreement, which took effect in 1994. Agricultural exports from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico jumped from $8.9 billion in 1993, before the deal was enacted, to $38 billion in 2016.

"One thing is clear: NAFTA has been good for the agriculture community," said state Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster).

The dairy industry stands to lose if NAFTA goes away. Pennsylvania is second only to Wisconsin in terms of the number of dairy farms in the U.S. The issue hits close to home for state Rep. Dave Zimmerman (R-Lancaster), who grew up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County.

"NAFTA is extremely important not only to Lancaster but to the state of Pennsylvania as a whole. We rely heavily on exporting, and Canada and Mexico are a vital part of that," Zimmerman said. 

Of all the Pennsylvania farm products that are exported, 37 percent go to Canada and Mexico. 

"The number one thing we cannot do is shut off these export markets," said Peter Hughes, owner of Red Barn Consulting Inc., a company in Lancaster that specializes in engineering, land planning and permitting.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to end NAFTA, citing the deal as unfair to the U.S. Officials from Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. have been negotiating since last summer. But there’s still a chance the president will decide to pull the U.S. out.

According to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's website, the renegotiation of NAFTA should include the participation of U.S. agriculture, protect the gains achieved in agricultural trade, and work to remove remaining barriers to trade with Canada and Mexico. 

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Shelby White

Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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