Were you a child of the fifties? Remember "Leave it to Beaver," the TV series about a mythical American suburb where women stayed at home cooking and cleaning while decked out in modestly below-the-knee dresses, wearing pearls and sporting high heels?
Maybe you can recall another fun game. It was called 'Duck and Cover.' It was played in all the schools. Kids pretended the Russkies had launched a fleet of ICBMs and the moment of impact was just moments away. To help eliminate unfortunate accidents, we were taught to duck under our desks and cover up. There was never any word about what we could do to avoid the radioactive fall out.
Let's hit the fast forward button and move ahead 60 years. Our modern Ward Cleaver, patient husband to June, is Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The Washington Examiner reported that USDA is drawing up 'Duck and Cover' contingency plans for the agriculture industry if President Trump directs the U.S. to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
We might call the plans 'Duck and Recover.' With the recent walk-away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, American Ag will have to absorb a brutal one-two punch to the gut. Two golden opportunities to expand our exports will evaporate like a mud puddle in July.
Already four rounds of talks have produced little more than conflicting talking points, polite diplomatic press releases disguising harsh reality. A few of the off-the-cuff comments have been less than polite. There has been no progress as Mexico and Canada have summarily dismissed the Trump administration’s radical changes to the quarter-century old pact.
Politico, the Washington-based political news resource, reported Sec. Perdue thought there was a real possibility of a NAFTA collapse in remarks he made to reporters.
“We’re talking with the administration and Congress about some mitigation efforts if that were to occur — about how we could protect our producers with that [agricultural] safety net based on prices that may respond negatively to any kind of NAFTA withdrawal,” he said.
Let's be plain. Abandoning both trade agreements would be something akin to a Russkie nuclear attack on American agriculture. It would be devastating. With American ag being the fuel behind our economic might, the devastation could reach way beyond the rural heartland.
Randy Spronk, a Minnesota hog farmer, traveled to Washington to deliver a blunt message to a forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters. "If President Donald Trump withdraws from the North American Free Trade Agreement, “the giant sucking sound you hear will be the air going out of the agricultural economy of rural America.”
Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said, “President Donald Trump promised farmers a series of bilateral trade agreements … It is time to get past plowing the same fields and start opening ground in new markets… Right now, we are standing around watching the world pass us by on trade agreements.”
Not wanting to sound like the Grimm Brothers, Perdue said his plans were just a contingency. He didn’t think the talks would fail. “There’ll be some nervous bumps in the meantime (because trade is so important to U.S. agriculture)."
The fifth round of talks starts November 17 in Mexico City. The U.S. demand for an expiration date which would allow countries to opt out of the investor-state dispute settlement system, and to increase content needed to use the “made in America” label are serious sticking points.
Spronk and Goule have outlined a forbidding future for American Ag without those two important trade agreements. Let's hope Trump can get past his Phineas T. Bluster attitude and do the right thing.