Talking trade with Trump

With Catherine Boudreau, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Sabrina Rodriguez, Adam Behsudi and Maya Parthasarathy

TRUMP AND SENATORS TALK TRADE AMID NEW STATS: Several pro-trade Republican senators met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday to impress to him the importance of staying the course on NAFTA. U.S. officials have taken a hard line in the latest round of talks that just wrapped up in Mexico, raising fresh concerns that the negotiations could collapse and Trump could pull out.

Ahead of his meeting with GOP senators, Trump emphasized the “tremendous losses” the U.S. has experienced with Mexico and Canada, citing faulty numbers — $71 billion in the trade deficit with Mexico and $17 billion with Canada. In actuality, the U.S. ran a $63.2 billion trade deficit with Mexico and $10.9 billion one with Canada last year.

After they dined on a lunch of steak and chocolate cake, the senators said they felt as if they had made progress. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst said she made a strong case to the president and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about the importance of NAFTA and its duty-free access for her state’s agricultural economy, Pro Trade’s Adam Behsudi reports. “I will continue working to ensure that any changes made to NAFTA do not hurt our crop and livestock producers,” said Ernst.

Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said that she “highlighted the significance of NAFTA to agriculture exports and related manufacturing jobs” and “stressed the need to safeguard the competitive advantage our agriculture producers and manufacturers have worked so hard to build.”

But the optimism could not mask the statistics also released on Tuesday showing just how much U.S. agriculture depends on trade deals like NAFTA. Data from the Business Roundtable, whose members are CEOs, shows that:

— U.S. food manufacturers exported $25 billion in food products to Canada and Mexico in 2015. Without NAFTA, those exports could have faced up to $3.8 billion in extra tariffs — including tariffs averaging 28.3% on meat products and 22% on dairy products.

— U.S. farmers and ranchers exported $15 billion in farm products to Canada and Mexico in 2015. Without NAFTA, those products would have had $657 million in extra tariffs — including those averaging 6.6% on oilseeds and grains.

Meanwhile, more than 14 national commodity associations and their state-level affiliates are taking to the phones and to Twitter today for a grassroots campaign day to emphasize the benefits of NAFTA and the importance of staying in the pact. Some of the groups involved in the effort include the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council and USA Rice, Adam reports.

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