MIDGELL, P.E.I. - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay downplayed suggestions that U.S. trade negotiators have been attempting to undermine the agricultural supply management system in Canada.
The two emerged from discussions, held at MacAulay’s farm overlooking St. Peters Bay, on Friday morning to take questions from reporters. Perdue is on P.E.I. at the invitation of MacAulay to discuss agricultural co-operation between the two countries.
The two men have maintained what MacAulay called a friendly rapport in the midst of the ongoing trade dispute between Canada and the U.S. MacAulay and Perdue spent Friday morning taking a tour of the coast near Annandale on a lobster boat and spent the afternoon visiting a potato farm in Rollo Bay.
“Trade is strong and balanced. It drives our farm businesses right from Souris to Savannah," MacAulay said during the press conference, referring to a town in Perdue’s home state of Georgia.
Perdue returned the warm words, thanking both MacAulay and his wife, Francis.
"Nation to nation, we can have meetings. But when someone invites you to their home, it's a special honour," Perdue said.
Perdue stated three times he had no intention of doing away with supply management, a Canadian system of import tariffs and quotas employed as a means of protecting dairy farmers.
"The U.S.'s ambition is not to dictate to Canada to do away with its supply management system. We do have a request that the supply be managed so that we do not overproduce and depress world milk solid prices," Perdue said.
"When you have an overproduction of milk solids that go onto the world market at lower prices based on a quota system that is very profitable domestically. Those are the kind of issues to be some of the essence of the discussion going forward on NAFTA."
U.S. dairy producers have cried foul over a 2016 Canadian federal decision to allow subsidized ultra-filtered milk, used in processed food, to be exported at a low price.
The matter came to a head after U.S. President Donald Trump decried Canadian duties on American dairy in a twitter tirade following the G7 summit last weekend. Trump referred to Prime Minister Trudeau as “dishonest” and “weak” in the tweet and has pledged further trade tariffs.
By contrast, Perdue acknowledged that farmers have been concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the Canada-U.S. trade dispute.
"There is legitimate anxiety among producers on both sides of the border that agricultural commodities, many times, are the tip of the spear in any type of retaliatory actions," he said.
Both men stated the NAFTA agreement had been a positive development for farmers. Perdue has been credited with convincing U.S. President Donald Trump to remain in the NAFTA negotiations, by focusing on negotiating new bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico.
While both MacAulay and Perdue said they were not directly involved in NAFTA negotiations, they say their ministries have influenced the negotiators.
Perdue said there is significant pressure from U.S. farmers to complete the NAFTA renegotiations quickly. The U.S. Farm Bill, the most significant legislation governing farming in the country, is in the midst of renegotiation in Congress. Completing the NAFTA negotiations will add economic certainty that will help efforts to renew this bill, according to Perdue.
"My deadline was two months ago," Perdue said jokingly.