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WASHINGTON - The sixth round of North American Free Trade Agreement talks are underway in Canada, and the American Farm Bureau Federation is looking to the talks as a way to modernize the agreement and improve on gains for U.S. ag.

AFBF senior director of congressional relations Dave Salmonsen says top trade officials are attending the talks this week, and could tackle hard issues, including agriculture.

"(Hard issues include) how to deal with the high dairy tariffs in Canada and some of the food safety standards issues. We also hope for improvements and approvals for biotechnology. So, there’s many issues to help modernize NAFTA," Salmonsen said. "But as we’ve been saying, NAFTA has been very good for U.S. agriculture, for Canadian agriculture, for Mexican agriculture, strong trade growth throughout the 23 years of the agreement, and we want that to continue."

Salmonsen is confident that trade negotiators will address issues important to agriculture.

"Our trade negotiators are well-versed. They’ve talked with Farm Bureau, other agricultural organizations, continuously the past year about these issues, know what U.S. agriculture needs out of this agreement, understand what needs to be protected, what can be helped," Salmonsen said. "And, I think all three negotiating countries and negotiating teams have such a big appreciation for agriculture. Agriculture is such a big industry in all the countries."

There is still a long road ahead as NAFTA negotiation rounds are scheduled through the spring.

"You can never predict when things are going to get wrapped up. The big issues in this whole negotiation has been about auto parts, rules of origin, manufacturing," Salmonsen said. "I think that if those issues could be dealt with, then I think the rest of the agreement could rapidly come to a close."

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