North American state and provincial agriculture officials gathered virtually this week for the 29th annual Tri-National Agricultural Accord (Accord). The delegates, led by Kentucky commissioner of agriculture Ryan Quarles for the U.S., Hidalgo secretary of agriculture Carlos Muñiz Rodríguez for Mexico and Manitoba minister of agriculture and resource development Blaine Pedersen for Canada, focused much of their attention on issues related to implementation of the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement -- known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the U.S., CUSMA in Canada and TMEC in Mexico -- as well as on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and their state and provincial counterparts from Mexico and Canada issued a joint communiqué on Thursday underscoring the role states and provinces play in successful implementation of USMCA.
“The USMCA has delivered an era of modernized free and fair trade, which will secure North America as the most powerful trading bloc in the world,” Quarles said. “By leveraging our growing power as a North American trade alliance, we will expand the opportunities of current and future generations of farmers, and there’s no doubt state and provincial governments play a key role in this success.”
Delegates, likewise, recognize how acting in concert as a North American trading block can leverage the capability of their food and agriculture industries to compete successfully in the global market, with the benefit of expanding opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers to succeed in the agricultural enterprise.
During a press conference with media following the conclusion of the three-day event, Quarles added that the main goal is smooth but momentous implementation of the new provisions of USMCA. This includes new provisions specific to the North American trade pact, such as the framework for agricultural biotechnology as well as the establishment of governance committees.
Delegates acknowledged the unique challenges of the past several months as the world continues to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, the delegates devoted the annual Tri-Lateral Session on Rural Development to addressing the response by states and provinces in support of maintaining rural infrastructure and the food supply chain.
“As state and provincial governments, we are the leaders best suited to address the local and regional concerns of our farming communities. Our mutual response efforts to the global COVID-19 pandemic are critical to the resilience of our rural communities and strength of our increasingly more connected food supply chain. Together, we will work with our federal governments to expand resource availability specifically to state and provincial agriculture departments for pandemic response efforts,” Quarles said.
During the media availability, Quarles said although agricultural workers are considered essential, the goal remains making sure frontline workers are kept safe while people are also able to access food. Some of the takeaways include a long-term plan to address certain stress points in the food supply system and also a discussion on the long-term need for personal protective equipment and employer safety.
Perdersen noted that an important thing to realize as COVID-19 continues is that although it put a strain on the entire food chain, including the delivery system, the system never broke down. It also raised consumer awareness on where food actually comes from, so he suggest that stakeholders “not let a good opportunity go to waste” in building on that awareness. The hope is to help educate consumers and continue to improve the food delivery system.
Another issue exacerbated during the pandemic is access to high-speed internet. “Farmers and food processors need this as a tool during COVID-19 and beyond,” Quarles said.
Delegates to this year's accord hosted innovative breakout sessions in which they discussed planning and response to the potential introduction of African swine fever and the benefits of new agricultural technologies such as gene editing. The delegates also held discussions to review and reaffirm the foundational documents of the Tri-National Agricultural Accord as a forum for provinces and states to enhance collaboration.