The North American Free Trade Agreement has been in the news a lot lately with new negotiations underway with an eye toward tweaking the 23-year-old program. Last week the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and counterparts from Mexico and Canada set down a list of priorities needed for a renewed agreement.

The officials gathered in Denver, Colo., for the 26th annual Tri-National Agricultural Accord, which has a history of bringing senior state and provincial ag officials together from Canada, the United States and Mexico to work together on trade and development issues. Included with the group was the North American State Departments of Agriculture, representing U.S. ag commissioners, secretaries and directors.

Don Brown, commissioner of agriculture, Colorado, was host for this year’s accord and commented that international trade with neighbors to the north and south is “of vital importance to our economy and quality of life. The Tri-National Agricultural Accord is a tremendous opportunity to discuss the importance of NAFTA and the value of cooperative partnerships.”

Ag officials released a joint statement noting the importance of NAFTA for ag and food processing. The statement also affirmed the work of the Tri-National Accord for the future. In addition, during the Colorado event the group discussed NAFTA and set down some priorities as negotiations proceed.

The Ministers, Secretaries, Commissioners and Directors of the state and provincial departments of agriculture from the three countries note the importance of NAFTA. Since the agreement went into effect the food and ag industry in the region has become increasingly integrated, helping all of North America become a competitive force internationally. As negotiations proceed, the group encouraged their respective federal governments to do the following.

* Swiftly modernize NAFTA in a way “that does not harm North America’s agriculture and food processing industries, so those industries can have the certainty to invest for the long term.”

* Enhance and formalize mechanisms for states and provinces to consult with the federal Consultative Committees on Agriculture and to serve as official advisers to their relevant committees. In its statement the tri-national group noted that input from state and provincial representatives will help ensure a comprehensive understanding of issues under consideration and their impacts – and they want CCAs formalized into NAFTA.

* Build and enhance the work of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council, U.S.-Mexico High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Council, and trilateral regulatory cooperation bodies to improve regional cooperation, regulatory harmonization, and trade facilitation. The group also supports the concept of coordination across governments to ensure a coherent regulatory approach.

* Modernize the Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade provisions to make sure effective and timely communication, cooperation, science-based decision-making and transparency are present.

* Maintain robust, rapid and legally binding dispute resolution mechanisms in NAFTA that are fair and impartial.

Source: NASDA