After pushing for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Donald Trump earlier this year kicked off negotiations among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Any major changes to the agreement could have a big impact on Kansas.
Kansas Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have said they’re open to updates but emphasize that the agreement needs to preserve or expand export opportunities.
“I support the administration’s effort to modernize and improve NAFTA,” Moran said in a newsletter this month. “I am concerned that withdrawing from the agreement … will harm our farmers and ranchers and cost us jobs.”
Food and ag products are the state’s top export, at more than $3.5 billion last year. Josh Roe, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the two NAFTA trading partners are critical destinations for those exports.
“There have certainly been years where Mexico and Canada are number one and number two,” Roe said.
Roe said NAFTA has led to development of infrastructure and processes that make it easier to export Kansas products to Canada and Mexico.
Last year, Mexico was the top destination for Kansas ag exports and Canada was the third.
Roe said commodity prices are low right now for some products. An upset of the trade agreement could reduce foreign demand and further hurt prices.
“We’re in very depressed agricultural prices now, even with very good export numbers. A further disruption could be absolutely devastating to agriculture and to the Kansas economy,” Roe said.
Certain Kansas products rely especially heavily on exports. Roe said nearly 60 percent of the wheat grown in Kansas last year was shipped to foreign markets.
Roberts disputed what he said was a “pervasive” view that the U.S. economy has not benefitted from NAFTA.
“U.S. agriculture has grown because of agreements like NAFTA,” he said. “And from the farmer in the field to the grocer in the store, American workers have benefited from that growth.”
Trump has been a persistent critic of the trade deal.
“NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country,” he said during a debate on the campaign trail.
Trump has said the U.S. may pull out of NAFTA, but as of now the three countries are in negotiations to instead modify the agreement.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.