Suppliers say the new agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada is functionally much the same, and they say that is a positive. ( File Photo )

There’s a new North American Free Trade Agreement, but “NAFTA 2.0” likely will not change the flow of fresh produce across the U.S.-Mexico border, suppliers say.

The new deal, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), updates the original trilateral NAFTA agreement of 1994.

“Nobody has said it’s going to affect anything differently,” said Alex Leon, salesman with Nogales, Ariz.-based brokerage Bernardi & Associates Inc.

President Donald Trump can sign the agreement after 60 days — November 30 — but Congress may take until next year to vote it up or down.

That the agreement doesn’t bring any big changes is a good thing, said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

“In my book, NAFTA hasn’t changed much. It was more a political stunt than anything else,” he said. “The biggest question remains whether or not Congress will approve it ... But I think it’s good. I don’t think there’s any serious issues.”

The agreement doesn’t contain any language that would provide an anti-dumping tool to help protect seasonal producers of perishable crops, which had been an early goal of the talks for the Trump administration.

“The U.S. producers would have an opportunity to basically file much easily injury under that Trade Remedy Provision,” DeSchouwer said of a seasonality provision that been under discussion.

“They wouldn’t have to prove harm was done on an annual basis but they could say on a seasonal basis there was harm done.”

However, Richard Owen, vice president of global business development at the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said in early October that Trump administration officials have indicated they will seek a comprehensive evaluation of the produce industry in Mexico by the U.S. International Trade Commission and would use the findings of the investigation to guide further actions.

“I think it’s fantastic that the United States, Mexico and Canada were able to work out the kinks and renew NAFTA,” said Matt Mandel vice president of operations at Rio Rico, Ariz.-based distributor SunFed.

“The entirety of the text is still being finalized and the devil is in the details, but in my opinion, on the whole, it will be good for agriculture.”

Some concerns remain, though, Mandel said.

“More than anything, I feel there was trepidation as to what eventualities might come out of the negotiations, but we’re all businessmen and women, and hard-working ones, at that,” he said. “As an industry, we will keep plowing forward regardless of the obstacles in our path.”

Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing at Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Farms, said he wasn’t worried.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any changes in the new NAFTA program,” he said. “I think free trade is a good thing.”

The bottom line is that the first iteration of NAFTA worked, and the second should, as well, said Scott Vandervoet, partner with Nogales-based Vandervoet & Associates Inc.

“We think the agreements have been good for consumers in the three countries and have allowed a more consistent supply,” he said. 

 
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