Fair trade is critical to American farmers and ranchers and our nation’s economy. That’s why opening new markets—and maintaining the ones we have now—is a top priority at the American Farm Bureau.
Agriculture is fueling our economy, as well as putting food on our tables. According to USDA, 11 percent of U.S. employment comes from the agriculture and food industry. That’s 21 million jobs, including about 18 million off-the-farm positions.
International trade plays a big role in that economic success. More than 20 percent of U.S. crops are grown for export. With 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders, we’ve only begun to tap our export potential. The more customers we can reach, the more jobs agriculture can create.
Although we supply the highest-quality food, fiber and fuel, our products often face a disadvantage in foreign markets with high tariffs and unnecessary, non-science based barriers to trade. We can and should address these challenges at the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, there are times when not everyone leaves the table fully satisfied with the outcome. That’s part of the give and take: Trade talks can be tough to navigate, but it’s even tougher for our businesses to get a share in new international markets without the hard-won provisions of new trade agreements.
It’s better for American farmers and businesses to have a seat at the table than for other nations to make trade agreements without us. In all, U.S. agricultural exports to free-trade areas have increased more than 136 percent since 2003. Well-crafted treaties have given us a greater share of growing markets worldwide.
The North American Free Trade Agreement is a particular success. Since NAFTA took effect, U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico have quadrupled. That’s why Farm Bureau is glad that President Trump and members of his ag and trade team have vowed to make NAFTA better through renegotiation, rather than scrapping it altogether.
Of course, free trade agreements don’t just increase our exports. They also bring in more imports. But even with more farm goods coming in from abroad, agriculture continues to have a positive trade balance. Last year, we exported $16.6 billion more agricultural products than we took in, and we’re on track for an even higher surplus in 2017, forecast at $21.5 billion. However, there are sensitive areas that we can address through renegotiation. We look forward to working with the administration to address these issues and make trade agreements an even greater success for agriculture.
Farmers and ranchers know they operate in a global economy, and they know that has its blessings and challenges. Global markets can be volatile and the bounty of one season may not be repeated in the next. Fair trade may not erase all those troubles, but it’s critical to keeping our farms and our nation’s economy competitive and thriving.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.