The most popular session at the Viva Fresh Produce Expo may be one that wasn't originally on the schedule.

Organizers have added a discussion on trade, "Exploring NAFTA Challenges & Opportunities," to the list of educational sessions set for April 21 in Austin, Texas.

Prompting increased conversation on the topic was the election of Donald Trump, whose disparaging comments about the North American Free Trade Agreement have created uncertainty about the future of business between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

"Trade has definitely jumped to the top of the list as far as what people are talking about," said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association, which puts on the expo. "Clearly there are a lot of questions."

A panel discussion will feature Luis Ribera, associate professor in the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University, who will give an overview of NAFTA and produce. Industry members from Canada and Mexico are also being contacted to participate on the panel.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh Produce Association, will moderate the discussion and take questions from the audience.

Melinda Goodman, managing partner at Full Tilt Marketing and the one in charge of the sessions schedule at Viva Fresh, said the panelists will talk about the possible implications of restrictive policy changes.

"I think you can expect a passionate discussion about how changes would impact these multi-national companies, what it would mean to produce prices and availability and how the industry would retool under a less inclusive trade policy," Goodman said in an e-mail.

The NAFTA panel is scheduled for 2 p.m., the final session of the day.

Erickson said Viva Fresh is the ideal place for the discussion to take place because 50-60% of the supply represented on the show floor is grown in Mexico.

"With all the publicity that's getting now, I think it was really good that we addressed that," said Jimmy Bassetti, Viva Fresh steering committee chairman and president of Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce.

 
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