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Focus on Agriculture

March 19, 2012

Trading Our Way Forward

By Tracy Taylor Grondine

International trade is a cornerstone of our country. From the 18th century when Native Americans traded fur to the French along the Ottawa River to the $131 billion in U.S. agriculture exports forecast for this year, we have always been a player in the trade arena. After all, said President Calvin Coolidge, “The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.”

Agricultural goods make up a significant component of overall U.S. exports. And although the world continues to demand large amounts of U.S. farm products, maintaining export values and volumes to benefit U.S. farmers requires constant efforts to expand market opportunities and remove government-imposed tariffs and other barriers.

Like the world we live in, trade initiatives and trends are ever-changing. To stay at the top of the game and maintain a competitive edge, our trade agenda has to be forward-looking and ensure plenty of market access for U.S. farmers.

For example, achieving Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Russia is Farm Bureau’s main trade priority in 2012. PNTR makes permanent the trade status the U.S. extends to Russia each year. The agreement Russia negotiated with the U.S. and other World Trade Organization member nations includes improved tariff and sanitary provisions particularly affecting U.S. beef, pork and poultry exports. In 2011, the United States was the third-largest supplier in the Russian market. Obtaining PNTR is a critical step to ensure the U.S. stays competitive in that part of the world.

Another priority is the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which aims to eliminate tariff- and non-tariff-barriers to trade between the U.S. and countries like Australia, Chili, Malaysia and many others. Japan, Canada and Mexico have also expressed interest in joining the TPP, which would increase trade opportunities because they would be unable to exclude certain sectors under the agreement.

For example, Japan is our fourth-largest agricultural export destination, with more than $13 billion in sales in 2011. But, the country has many restrictive policies against certain agricultural imports that would have to be addressed under the TPP.

Looking to Europe, efforts are under way to increase agriculture trade with the European Union and remove barriers on U.S. products made with biotechnology.  In 2011 the U.S. exported more than $10 billion in agriculture products to the EU. Additional market access to the EU is significant for farmers.

Lastly, China became the United States’ top agricultural importer in 2011, with more than $20 billion in sales. Continued demand from China for a range of products, primarily soybeans and cotton, with growing demand for meats and corn, will keep China in the forefront as an agricultural customer.

Tracy Taylor Grondine is director of media relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.