Helena, Mont. – Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) Director Ben Thomas joined state and provincial counterparts from the United States, Mexico and Canada last week to stress the necessity of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for agriculture and to call on their respective federal governments to ensure a modernized NAFTA does not harm agriculture. North American state and provincial agriculture officials gathered last week in Denver, Colo. for the 26th annual Tri-National Agricultural Accord. The Tri-National Agricultural Accord represents a longstanding commitment among the senior state and provincial agricultural officials of North America to work together collaboratively on agricultural trade and development issues.
“Trade with Canada and Mexico is absolutely vital for Montana agriculture. As our federal governments continue to negotiate a modernized NAFTA, it is important that some fixes be made to the agreement while preserving the gains made by Montana’s ag industry,” said Director Thomas. “Specifically, for Montana, when you look at the way US wheat is treated when it is sent north into Canada, it is obvious some action needs to be taken.”
Currently, when US wheat is exported to Canada, it is automatically graded as the lowest possible quality; however, Canadian wheat flows freely into the United States, maintaining its grade as it goes to market. At last year’s Tri-National Accord, MDA secured commitments from Canadian government officials to address the issue, but it is now included as part of the larger NAFTA negotiations. Other crops, like pulses, can be exported to Canada without any degradation of quality at the border.
“With all that being said, it is important we don’t just rip up the agreement and walk away,” said Director Thomas. “Mexico has become a reliable market for much of our malt barley, and we don’t want to lose that market access for our producers.”
Maltsters around the world covet the high quality of Montana’s two row barley, most of which is grown for malt. In 2016, Mexico imported over 415,000 metric tons of malt, with nearly 75% of that amount coming from the US. With Montana being ranked 2nd nationally in US barley production, a significant portion of those imports likely came from Montana.
The Montana Department of Agriculture’s mission is to protect producers and consumers, and to enhance and develop agriculture and allied industries.