Expanded immigration enforcement and potential trade renegotiation are casting a shadow over Kansas City area residents and businesses.
Both topics surfaced Wednesday during an agricultural trade forum at Union Station. Talk focused mostly on trade and President Donald Trump’s calls to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement that covers the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“For all those who are thinking about renegotiating NAFTA, our request is do no harm first and foremost,” said Neil Herrington, executive director of the Americas for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the forum.
The 23-year-old trade agreement has sparked imports and exports. It also has led to “continental integration” in agribusiness, said Kevin Smith, assistant vice president of international sales for Seaboard Foods based in Merriam.
Western Canada, for example, produces a lot of pork and much of it supplies markets in the western United States. Canada’s large population centers in the east, however, buy U.S. pork rather than move Canada’s pork across the continent, he said.
“It’s logistically cheaper and economically more feasible,” Smith said. “It benefits both countries.”
The two men and other speakers emphasized that trade is critically important to the economies of Missouri and Kansas and that agriculture plays a substantial role in their trade on the continent. For example, nearly 70 percent of Missouri’s agricultural exports go to Canada or Mexico. For Kansas, the total is 36 percent.
Immigration also factors in the area’s economic fortunes.
“In general, we are dependent on many of the immigrants to work in the meat industry, in the grain industry, in the processing industry in order to be competitive,” said Bill Krueger, CEO of Lansing Trade Group, an Overland Park-based commodities trading business with 35 locations in North America.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration expanded efforts to enforce immigration laws. The order has led Mexico’s consulate in Kansas City to advise Mexican nationals here to know their rights.
“There’s concern within the community regarding these (enforcement) operations,” said Alfonso Navarro-Bernachi, who is Mexico’s consul general in Kansas City.
Navarro-Bernachi said before the forum that the consulate is offering advice on how immigrants should react in the face of immigration control actions, both at work and at home.
Ask to see a court order that names the person involved in the immigration issue. Don’t allow the immigrant agent to enter your house. Request the ability to seek legal help and contact the Mexican consulate for advice and to help organize a defense.
The forum began with a reminder from Bob Peterson, executive director of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City that held the forum. He noted that NAFTA had taken effect in 1994, before many business managers’ careers had begun.
“They don’t remember what it was like not to have that market,” Peterson said.
One concern about renegotiating the treaty centers on potential trade restrictions. Such action on one side of the border could trigger a similar response from the other side, and then escalate.
If it comes to a trade war, Herrington said, Mexico and Canada have options. He said Mexico is sending its agriculture secretary to Argentina and Brazil in coming weeks to consider new sources of grains.
“That clearly is evidence of what’s at stake,” he said.