By Tom Collins
The United States’ newest secretary of agriculture says issues between the U.S. and Canada can be solved amicably.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will require serious discussions among friends but renegotiating it is doable, said Sonny Perdue, a 70-year-old Georgia farmer, businessman, congressman, father of four adult children and grandfather.
In a recent trip to the Canadian west, Perdue told the Western Producer that Canadian farmers worried about the renegotiation of NAFTA can “relax, breathe deeply and we’re all going to be fine.”
Perdue said the United States has three big issues with NAFTA.
• In dairy, the U.S. wants to ensure that supply management isn’t used by Canada to dump milk onto the world market. That’s not quite the same as the mainstream news media’s overblown scenario that the U.S. will demand an end to supply management.
• On wheat grading, Perdue said that northern U.S. farmers want their wheat treated fairly. As it stands, U.S. wheat is downgraded when brought to Canadian grain elevators.
• On wine, Perdue doesn’t want U.S. wine segregated or being treated differently than Canadian wines by different provincial retailing regulations.
The new ag secretary visited Canada in early June to meet with Canadian and provincial leaders on a number of topics.
“We had very good, very candid discussions, very frank, like family members discussing some things that are not necessarily comfortable,” Perdue told U.S.-based Southeast Farm Press. “We laid out a great framework to begin renegotiating NAFTA. It’s not our purpose to try to manage or try to get involved in their internal supply management regarding the dairy industry. The ultra-filtered milk was not included in NAFTA. And I made it very clear that the Class 7 designation we felt was an unfair undercutting of the U.S. industry that grew up south of the U.S.-Canada border. It cut these producers and this industry out of shipping the ultra-filtered milk into their cheese industry, which was in demand in Canada. I also said, if you want to manage your dairy supply with supply management, that’s fine. You just need to manage it and not overproduce to create a glut of milk solids on the world market that’s being dumped at unfair prices.”
He was the governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011, the first Republican Georgia governor in 130 years. He was born and raised on a Georgia mixed grain farm and served in the U.S. air force before becoming a veterinarian. He is a plane and helicopter pilot. Perdue also founded AGrowStar, a grain merchandising company with a total capacity of more than 3 million bushels throughout several U.S. states.
He founded Georgia-based exporter Perdue Partners in 2011.
Environmental activists have condemned Perdue’s appointment but he has been widely praised by U.S. farm groups.
When nominated for secretary, the largest U.S. farm group strongly supported him.
“He is an outstanding nominee,” wrote American Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall. “He understands the challenges facing rural America because that’s where he was born and raised.”