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Wheat 'fix' in new trade agreement draws praise

Two prominent U.S. wheat groups say they're pleased that a new trade agreement addresses what they say is unfair treatment of U.S. wheat by Canada.

The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has an important provision for U.S. wheat growers, say the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes U.S. wheat exports around the world.

The new agreement would provide "a fix to the Canadian grain grading system which automatically designates U.S. wheat as the lowest grade simply because it is foreign. This means U.S. farmers producing the highest quality wheat arbitrarily get less value for their crop," the two wheat groups said in a joint written statement.

Though U.S. agriculturalists were critical of some portions of NAFTA, the existing trade agreement enjoyed widespread support in ag circles and generally was seen as beneficial. So many in U.S. ag community were concerned that exports to two of America's top trading partners could be crippled if a new agreement wasn't reached.

Though many details aren't yet known, the new agreement appears to alleviate those concerns, at least temporarily.

North Dakota is the nation's leading producer of spring wheat, a crop that's also popular with Canadian farmers.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a written statement that she's worked with the Canadian ambassador for the past year to address issues in NAFTA important to North Dakota farmers and ranchers.

"The new agreement is good news for wheat growers who would no longer face an unfair Canadian grading system — a change I've been pushing for — but it's disappointing the concerns of cattle ranchers and potato farmers were not addressed," she said.

She said also the new agreement doesn't address steel and aluminum tariffs, "which are still putting North Dakota's energy industry and agriculture manufacturing equipment companies in jeopardy."

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a written statement that he worked to ensure that the agreement "eliminates Canada's automatic downgrade of imported U.S. wheat to feed-grade and ensures grading standards and services are non-discriminatory."

Information from his office also said that the agreement expands access to the Canadian market for U.S. poultry, eggs and dairy.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who's challenging Heitkamp for her Senate seat, said in a written statement that the agreement "is a major victory for our country" and that " I look forward to reviewing the text of the agreement in the near future and working with my colleagues to ensure its passage by Congress."

U.S. agricultural groups were cautiously optimistic about the newly announced agreement, but they want to to learn specifics before giving a definitive assessment.

"Farmers need to understand that nothing has changed yet, but we are pleased to see that USTR (Office of the United State Trade Representative) has made progress in resolving this issue, with Canada agreeing to grade imported wheat with the same requirements as Canadian wheat," the two wheat groups said.

"We will follow the implementation of this commitment closely to ensure U.S. farmers can finally have reciprocal access to the Canadian market," the groups said.

"Farmers across the country have been closely following NAFTA negotiations and reminding the administration of its promise to 'do no harm' to agriculture," Lynn Crisp, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said in a written statement.

Now, the corn growers "look forward to thoroughly evaluating to determine if it (the new agreement) continues to benefit American agriculture," Crisp said.

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