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Officials Discuss NAFTAs Impact

by Emma Hopkins

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018

Last Wednesday, Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and other industry representatives gathered for a roundtable conversation on the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the Hoosier economy.

The meeting, hosted by the Agribusiness Council of Indiana in downtown Indianapolis, consisted of members from the Indiana Corn Growers Assn. and Soybean Alliance, the Indiana Beef Cattle Assn., as well as one representative from Cummins Inc., and other Indiana government officials. These individuals represent the Americans for Farmers and Families—a coalition of growers, producers, suppliers, transporters, retailers and consumers dedicated to preserving NAFTA.

Mike Beard of the Indiana Corn Growers Assn. said the ag Industry will need support from local and national officials to send a message to the Trump administration, letting them know there is damage to be done by withdrawing from the agreement or making changes to NAFTA that are detrimental to agriculture.

"We're hoping for a good outcome from what's going on," Beard said. "The phrase 'do no harm to agriculture' is one that we hang our hats on. We need to communicate to our public officials and we've done that a little bit here today with Lt. Gov. Crouch and Director Kettler, but then to Washington and to our representatives."

During the roundtable, Beard said he had an "ah-ha" moment when a parallel was drawn between multiple sectors of the ag industry and parts of other industries. For instance, grain farmers sell to livestock farmers, who feed animals that are part of exports to small companies, that work for bigger companies, that export. Smaller companies may not realize the effect that NAFTA could have on them, which is why the Indiana Chamber is working to educate their member companies about the importance of NAFTA and of maintaining free trade agreements.

Beard said he believes many businesses are thinking the same thing and all are working in the same direction.

Amy Cornell, president of the Agribusiness Council of Indiana, remarked that the Holcomb administration is doing a lot of work to support ag's position of staying in NAFTA. Members of the roundtable asked Crouch and Kettler to continue to advocate for agriculture and bring more attention to the public about the issue.

"I think overall, Lt. Gov. Crouch and Director Kettler heard loud and clear from all the panelists today how important NAFTA is to the ag sector—specifically to the rural economy of Indiana," she said. "A lot of people probably don't understand the effects this could have on their daily lives in their businesses, so we want to make sure that we are being as vocal as we can."

ISDA Director Kettler said his department, the governor and lieutenant governor have continued to make sure both Indiana senators' offices and other senator congressional delegation are aware of the importance of NAFTA to the state of Indiana. He said groups need to ban together, standing up to proclaim the importance of NAFTA, but he also said individuals can and need to make personal efforts.

"The lieutenant governor reiterated the importance to Indiana in terms ag, but also manufacturing—the agreement impacts so many different industries," Kettler said. "I think one of the important things that came out of the panel is that we need to continue to educate really two groups—one, keep educating the public about NAFTA's impacts, what it means in the case of a farmer, for example, and secondly, keep our congressional delegation informed."

Kettler said individual farmers can also share within their community about the impacts of losing NAFTA, because there may be a lot of people who do not know exactly what the agreement means for their businesses. Equally as important, he said, is individuals continuing to reach out to their congressmen and congresswomen in making sure that both of are aware of it.

Though there is much worry throughout the industry about potential withdrawal from NAFTA, there is little confirmed information on how negotiations are proceeding. Cory Harris, public affairs manager for the Indiana Corn Growers Assn. and Indiana Soybean Alliance, said that withdrawal, however, is still a possibility.

"As far as we are able to decipher, it seems like the 'ag' parts of negotiations are going well, and we do recognize the mutual benefit of ag trade between the North American continent and appreciate the market that exists there, and they appreciate the high-quality, high-quantity product that we are able to provide them," Harris said. "As far as the negotiations overall are going now, however, that is where we have a little more concern just because some of the rhetoric being delivered—that we are willing to withdraw from the agreement if we're not able to reach criteria that all parties are happy with. That's where the real concern comes from, is the potential that we could back out of the agreement if we're not able to get everything our way."

Some describe feelings surrounding the issue as "uneasy."

"I think until it is done, there will be many people who will be uneasy about the situation," Kettler said. "Though as I talk to people in Washington, D.C., I think people are cautiously optimistic that good things will come out of it."

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