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Washington agriculture officials welcome news of Mexico trade accord

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 27, 2018

FILE - Apples are seen being processed at the Stemilt facility last year in Wenatchee. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Apples are seen being processed at the Stemilt facility last year in Wenatchee. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

After months of uncertainty about global markets, state agriculture officials welcomed news Monday that the United States had reached a preliminary agreement with Mexico, which is the largest importer of Washington-grown apples.

The accord would replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with a new deal that could encourage more manufacturing in the United States, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

However, the new pact called “the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement” does not include Canada, which is part of NAFTA, and the new accord must be ratified by lawmakers in both countries, according to the AP.

“It sounds like a positive development,” said Hector Castro, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “All along, what we have been hearing regarding these various trade discussions was concerns that there wasn’t any movement.

“People are welcoming some movement in the discussions,” Castro continued, “but there seems to be a lot of work to do, not just with Mexico, but with Canada and the tariff issues with China.”

Rebecca Lyons, the international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission, said local producers have shipped about 13 million bushels of apples to Mexico this season, which runs from Sept. 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018.

“We are still shipping to Mexico even with a 20 percent tariff due to the retaliation for the steel and aluminum tariffs,” she said. “What we were hoping for was to continue the same access we had under the old NAFTA agreement. And, we are understanding that has been maintained. So, that’s good for the industry.”

Earlier this month, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, came to Spokane on an invitation from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Conaway spoke just hours after McMorris Rodgers’ primary election.

At the meeting, Conaway, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, said he expected that President Donald Trump’s administration to announce a bilateral agreement with Mexico at any time.

“My sense was that (Trump) would prefer a bilateral deal with Mexico and a bilateral deal with Canada,” Conaway said on Aug. 8. “No details of course, but that’s just the sense was that he was saying he was getting close on both countries. So that may be coming.”

The uncertainty about foreign markets has been particularly hard on Washington agriculture, which relies foreign markets that have been disrupted by the brewing trade war. For example, some 92 percent of Washington wheat is exported, according to the state department of agriculture.

“Our voices have been, ‘Mr. President get this trade stuff done,’ ” Conaway said on Aug. 8. “It’s unsettling the markets in a big way, none more unsettled than the ag markets.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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