Gary Wertish

Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Talks of closing the southern border as a means to stem the flow of illegal immigration may have subsided, but the issue remains as does the possibility of a closure. The Minnesota Farmers Union urges the President to keep trade and agriculture in mind as he navigates U.S. relations with other countries and to keep borders open.

“We have got people trying to come to our country for a better life. That’s ultimately what the vast majority of them are trying to do, they're trying to get away from the violence in their own countries,” said Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president, during a recent phone interview. “That needs to be addressed.”

There is no question the United States immigration system is severely flawed and needs to be fixed, but in a way that is beneficial to both sides.

“We are short of workers in various areas, but there needs to be safe and legal way for those workers to be able to come into our country,” said Wertish.

Solving the southern border was one of President Trump’s campaign promises, siting not just illegal immigration as the issue, but also drug trafficking and criminal activity. The argument is not against taking on and solving these issues, but to move forward without causing more undue stress on agriculture.

“Shutting the border would be very harmful to agriculture. A complete shut off of the border would be very harmful,” he said. “We do a lot of trading, we are in a global economy, so there is a lot of trading going back and forth from both countries.”

Another promise made by the President was to ratify, renegotiate and improve trade deals the United States has with other countries.

Early on in his tenure as President, he took drastic steps towards that goal, implementing tariffs to encourage countries to come to the bargaining table. Now, as he begins the third year of his term in office, those trade deals are still not done.

“The new NAFTA agreement (the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), that is not ratified by any of the three countries,” he said. “He needs to take the tariffs off, because I think Mexico and Canada both have said that while the tariffs stay on, they have not put it forward in their countries for a vote.”

Last fall, the President and leadership from Canada and Mexico reached a trade agreement, the USMCA. Before it can be implemented, the rest of the governing bodies from each country must review it and vote on it. Neither the President, nor the leaders from Canada and Mexico have made any steps towards presenting the USMCA to their respective legislative branches.

The Section 232 tariffs that Wertish refers to include a wide range of goods that are imported to the U.S. The President imposed these tariffs to encourage trade talks and push for the renegotiation of trade agreements.

In response the President’s tariffs, other countries implemented their own tariffs on U.S. exports.

“With the Section 232 tariffs put on that, that has really hurt agriculture, especially the dairy industry,” said Wertish. “About 23 percent of their exports go into Mexico, so that's really been slowed down.”

That only adds more strain on the dairy farmers, who have already been in crisis for a number of years.

While the political focus is being shifted towards border crises and drug trafficking, the Minnesota Farmers Union is working to keep the administration focused on agriculture.

“The farmers are taking the brunt of it, ag has really been thrown under the bus,” he said. “The instability that this has all caused in the trading arena worldwide is really hurting the ag economy.”

The Farmers Union sees the first step towards solving this issue as lifting and removing tariffs.

For U.S. agriculture to be successful, the U.S. must be seen as a reliable trading partner in the global market. Unfortunately, with the tariffs in place and the administration’s approach, other countries do not view the U.S. as reliable.

“The Farmers Union agreed with him that we need to look at all these trade agreements. There’s no disagreement there, we just disagree in the way it is being handled,” said Wertish. “The trade agreements need to be solved sooner than later and we have been saying that for quite a while.”