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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri, Harvest covers agriculture-related topics through a network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.

Perdue: Farm Labor Fix Not Likely To Surface In NAFTA Talks

Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue meets with a Missouri girl who shows cattle at the American Royal while visiting Kansas City on April 28.

Farms and ranches throughout the country won’t see their labor shortages solved by a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In a call with reporters while visiting Mexico ahead of the trade talks, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said labor issues likely wouldn’t be addressed during formal negotiations among the United States, Mexico and Canada, set to begin August 16th.

President Donald Trump pilloried the controversial trade deal and its creators during the 2016 presidential campaign, calling NAFTA, “the worst trade deal in the history of the world.” But rather than pull out completely, he decided to renegotiate the terms. Trump’s main contention with the deal was how it affected manufacturing jobs, not its role in the agricultural economy.

“Our goal, first of all, is to do no harm in agricultural sectors,” Perdue said.

Still annoyed by the loss of the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- another trade deal that became a lightning rod during the election -- the many trade groups who represent Midwest and Great Plains commodity farmers have cautioned the administration to tread lightly, seeing few upsides to the renegotiation. They say America’s commodity farmers have fared well under NAFTA. Perdue says he understands those concerns.

“We hope that we can do it without diminishing the impact, the beneficial impact, that NAFTA has had on the agricultural sector,” Perdue said.

There was some hope the talks could include a fix for the widespread labor shortages seen on many of the country’s ranches and dairy, fruit and vegetable farms. But Perdue said that wouldn’t be part of the NAFTA talks, adding the administration was working on a separate fix to the labor shortage problem but he couldn’t yet share details.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.