The top U.S., Canadian and Mexican agriculture officials came together today to espouse the benefits of trilateral cooperation and a newly renegotiated North American trade pact, but the unity was marred by the Trump administration’s refusal to lift its steel and aluminum tariffs.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, flanked by Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos Arámbula, said he was optimistic the “Section 232” tariffs would be lifted and the countries would ratify the trade pact, but his counterparts were more hesitant.

All three officials were on the stage together at USDA’s 95th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum to jointly provide the keynote address for the two-day event.

“We don’t know yet,” Villalobos told Agri-Pulse when he was asked if Mexico’s Senate would be willing to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that leaders of the three countries signed in December.

MacAulay stressed historical cooperation with the U.S., but also forcefully demanded: “We need steel and aluminum tariffs off.”

Perdue, for his part, also stressed an intense desire to see the 232 tariffs lifted. He said he has lobbied the White House and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to do away with the import taxes, but he hasn’t yet been successful.

“It’s in all of our best interests to see that happen,” Perdue said of the desire to see the removal of the tariffs, but also stressed that President Donald Trump does not agree. “I’m expressing my opinion to the (USTR) and to the president regarding the expectations of agriculture. … The president listens. Obviously, he has a different opinion regarding the benefits of tariffs at this point in time.”

Perdue said Trump is considering alternative ways of addressing steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, such as quotas. It’s unclear if leaders and legislatures in the two countries would accept quotas.

There are some clear advantages for U.S. agriculture in the renegotiated USMCA, including a Canadian agreement to allow in more dairy and poultry, but the primary concern is that the three countries continue to keep virtually all agricultural tariffs at zero, the status quo in the current North American Free Trade Agreement.

The 232 tariffs are muting the NAFTA benefits because both Canada and Mexico have hit back with retaliatory tariffs. Representatives of both countries have said they will lift the retaliation as soon as the steel and aluminum tariffs are removed.

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