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  November 21st, 2017 | Written by

North Carolina Exporters Fret Over NAFTA’s Future

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  • “Do no harm to trade relations with Mexico.”
  • A withdrawal from NAFTA will be a train wreck.
  • All of the growth opportunities in pork come from exporting.

“Do no harm to trade relations with Mexico in the renegotiation of NAFTA.”

That was the advice given to the Trump administration by Joel Coleman, general manager and vice president for international sales at Butterball, the second largest producer of turkey products in the country.

Coleman spoke last week at the North Carolina Port Cold Chain Summit 2017, a forum meant to discuss issues of interest to those who move perishables in international trade and to highlight the capabilities of the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, in that area.

Agriculture is the number-one industry in North Carolina, accounting for $84 billion in annual sales and over $3 billion in exports. North Carolina is the number-two turkey producing state in the country, behind Minnesota, and boasts the largest turkey and hog processing facilities in the nation. And, as discussed in yesterday’s forum, many North Carolina agricultural exporters are dependent on NAFTA for their businesses.

NAFTA is important for the pork industry,” said David Herring, vice president of Hog Slat, Inc., a family-owned producer of live hogs and of equipment used in the hog farming and processing in North Carolina. Forty percent of Hog Slat’s sales go to Canada and Mexico—a number which holds true for the North Carolina hog industry as a whole, according to Blake Brown, an economic professor at North Carolina State University, who also spoke at the conference—and the company would like to see that number grow.

In the United States, pork consumption has been stuck at around 50 pounds per person per year for about ten years and has not risen, despite the best efforts of the industry. Yet pork exports to Mexico have grown dramatically during the same period, even though domestic Mexican production has also increased at the same time.

“Mexico had 600,000 sows 15 years ago,” said Herring, “and now they have over one-million. A withdrawal from NAFTA will be a train wreck. All of the growth opportunities in pork come from exporting.”