June 15, 2018 / 11:00 AM / 9 months ago

As U.S. and Canada spar, farm hopes ride on two men in lobster boat

June 15 (Reuters) - While Justin Trudeau vowed last week not to be pushed around and U.S. President Donald Trump called the Canadian prime minister “weak,” two key officials in their governments with a seemingly harmonious relationship were making fishing plans.

On Friday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will visit the farm of Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay in the idyllic province of Prince Edward Island (PEI), best known as the fictional home of Anne of Green Gables.

Between meetings, the two men will pull up lobster traps and stroll the red earth of a potato farm, according to an agenda.

Although no list of issues has been released, Canada’s protected dairy industry is expected to come up for discussion after President Donald Trump renewed his attack on the sector for its high tariffs.

Negotiations on a North American Free Trade Agreement have been overshadowed by Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, and Canada’s vows of retaliation.

With Trump and Trudeau out of step, the best hope for a breakthrough may be Perdue and MacAulay, both 71, although direct trade negotiations are handled by the U.S. Trade Representative and Canada’s Foreign Minister.

The rapport between MacAulay, a former dairy farmer himself, and Perdue, the former Georgia governor, is “comforting,” said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

“They might be the two people who can help find common ground.”

The U.S. and Canadian farm sectors are better off working together than apart, said Kent Bacus, director of international trade and market access for the U.S.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“Minister MacAulay and Secretary Perdue, they already have a strong relationship and at times like this you really need to lean on those types of relationships,” he said.

Trade in farm products between the countries amounts to C$47 billion ($36.11 billion) annually, split roughly evenly, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Huge volumes of meat and grain, as well as pigs and cattle cross the border daily in a tightly integrated farm sector.

Still, the issues can generate friction.

Canada has placed U.S. cooked beef on a list for proposed retaliatory tariffs over U.S. duties on Canadian steel, threatening a market worth about $164 million to American producers, according to Erin Borror, economist for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Following their first meeting in person in Toronto last year, Perdue publicly denounced a Canadian dairy-pricing system as “underhanded.” But later that month, following meetings in Georgia that included Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada, they went for ice cream and mugged for selfies that MacAulay posted on Twitter.

In a statement, MacAulay said he and Perdue will work to grow farm sectors on both sides of the border.

Perdue, in his own statement, added that he respects MacAulay’s genuineness.

“Minister MacAulay is an authentic agriculturalist,” Perdue said. “And if you know anything about the industry, it’s hard to fake agriculture.” ($1 = 1.3017 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Tom Polansek in Chicago Editing by Chris Reese)

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