With NAFTA in peril, Mexico seeks new outlets for farm exports

The Mexican government presented on Thursday a plan to diversify trade in agricultural goods ahead of talks with the United States and Canada on overhauling the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In 2016, 78 percent of Mexico’s farm exports went to the United States, but that could change given US President Donald Trump’s insistence on renegotiating NAFTA, a pact he has denounced as harmful to industries and workers north of the border.

“We have increased and accelerated country visits with the objective of diversifying even more quickly,” Agricultural Secretary Jose Calzada told a press conference.

Mexico exported a record $29 billion in agricultural products last year, the secretary said.

Mexican avocados and tequila are in demand in the world market, he said, though acknowledging his county’s huge dependence on the US as a customer.

In 2016, Mexico posted a $7 billion surplus in agricultural trade with the giant to the north.

Mexican officials have made trade-promotion visits to Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and the Arabian peninsula, Calzada said, adding that there is potential to sell up to $1 billion of halal meat to Muslim nations in the Middle East.

Another possible outlet for Mexican beef is Russia, the secretary said, while noting that Moscow would be looking for reciprocity in any agreement.

The Russians, he said, “want us to buy wheat from them, and this seems fair to me.”

Regarding the farm goods Mexico currently imports from the US, such as soy, rice and yellow maize, Calzada said that those commodities are also available from Brazil and Argentina.

Mexico said they will be ready to begin NAFTA talks this summer, but observers in Washington suggest the start of negotiations won’t come until late in the year.

Mexican agricultural producers need to emerge from their “comfort zone” and begin looking for alternatives to the US as an export market, Calzada said.

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