One of the many positive things about free trade agreements is that they allow each country’s ag sectors to play to its strengths in terms of crops and livestock production. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an excellent example of that, as economists noted during a recent conference on ag exports at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.

With fertile soils, a solid infrastructure and the world’s top farmers, the United States excels at sustainably producing corn and soybeans, the building blocks of livestock feed rations. We are also pretty darn good at raising high quality pork, beef, poultry and eggs that the world wants.

With NAFTA in place, that U.S. advantage has really shown through, and exports of those ag products to Mexico and Canada have soared. A recent report show­ed that U.S. food and agriculture exports to Canada and Mexico have soared 450 percent since the agreement was launched more than two decades ago.

But there are some crops that the United States isn’t that good at growing, especially during the winter months. And that’s where our NAFTA partners, and especially Mexico, have stepped in.

While their country is importing feed grains and meats from the United States, Mexico’s farmers are using their long growing season to produce crops that are impossible to grow during the cold winters in the United States and Canada. They supply the limes and avocados for Super Bowl parties, the tomatoes for winter salads and a wide range of other crops that fill the supermarket produce section.

More fruits and veggies

The increase in reasonably priced imports of fruits and vegetables from Mexico has been a very positive development of NAFTA, said Joseph Glauber, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and now with the International Food Policy Research Institute. “Imports from Mexico are helping Americans eat more fruits and vegetables year-round, which is something that health experts say we all need to do,” he said.

It’s no surprise that farm state lawmakers, ag groups and others are pushing hard to extend NAFTA. The trade pact has boosted exports and has been critical to adding value to U.S. crops and livestock products.

But, Glauber pointed out, Am­­erican consumers also have a big stake in the future of NAFTA. “It’s really helped a lot of people, and that often gets overlooked.”