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The Soil of Ag Trade Is Fertile

Viewpoints / The Zipline March 6, 2019

Credit: Getty Images 

Customers around the world know that “American-grown” means top quality, so it’s no surprise the U.S. exports more agricultural products than we bring in. For more than 50 years, our industry has carried a trade surplus because our farmers and ranchers grow and produce the best food, fuel and fiber in the world. Not only that, our success lifts the whole economy as ag exports support more than 1 million U.S. jobs. We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot more to accomplish, when it comes to trade.

We also need to bring stability back to our trading relationship with our nearest neighbors by working with Congress and the administration to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as quickly as possible. America’s farmers and ranchers have experienced tremendous gains from the North American Free Trade Agreement, and we’re ready to build on those with the new USMCA. Deals like this are good for agriculture and our whole economy. According to Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. enjoyed a trade surplus of $12 billion in countries where we had a trade agreement in 2015, but we only had agreements in force with 20 countries. And that remains the case today. We need to keep moving forward by expanding our market access, before we get left behind as other countries form agreements without us.

If we’re going to keep agricultural trade successful, we must hold our trading partners accountable and move forward with new deals—and that’s just what the administration is doing

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all good news with trade over the last year. Farmers have gotten caught in the crossfire of a year-long trade war with China. If we’re honest, however, we know a trade war has been going on much longer there. The U.S. trade deficit with China was $375 billion in 2017 alone—that number doesn’t include money lost from China’s unfair business practices. We all know a fair deal when we see one, and you can’t call that kind of an imbalance fair. No doubt, farmers and ranchers are hurting from lost markets as tariffs have escalated back-and-forth, but we are hopeful that the administration’s tough stance will yield long-term rewards for our country’s economy, including rural communities that have suffered from economic hardship.

This spring we are beginning to see a ray of hope as talks continue with China. This has been a long road, and I know we’re all eager to see the situation resolved. From positive reports in recent days, it seems we are getting closer. We have been encouraged by the announcement of more purchases of U.S. ag products by China, as well as by the President’s decision to delay indefinitely another tariff increase on Chinese imports that had been planned for this month. If we’re going to keep agricultural trade successful, we must hold our trading partners accountable and move forward with new deals—and that’s just what the administration is doing.

With the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans Pacific Partnership already ratified by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore, USTR’s upcoming trade talks with Japan could not come soon enough. The Pacific market is an amazing growth opportunity for U.S. agriculture with Japan already a top five market for our ag exports. We cannot afford missing out here. The American Farm Bureau estimated that the original TPP would have increased net farm income by $4.4 billion and would have added more than 40, 000 jobs to our economy had we joined the agreement. It’s time to get a trade deal with Japan that will reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers and improve science-based sanitary measures to bring our farmers greater access to this booming market.

We are also eager for USTR’s planned talks with the EU and UK to break down agricultural barriers and bring balance to trade across the Atlantic. For too long, the European Union has set unfair, non-scientific barriers on our farm products – resulting in a negative trade balance of $70 billion over the last decade. This is unacceptable treatment of American farmers and ranchers who abide by the highest safety and quality standards in the world. Farm Bureau is grateful that the administration is once again sticking by farmers and ranchers: They have made it clear that there will be no deal without including agriculture.

There’s no question 2018 was a tough year for many of us in farm country, and part of the reason for that is the turbulence on the trade front. But we can come out on the other side stronger than ever, and I believe we will. In fact, President Trump personally has assured us of that. American farmers and ranchers will continue to be leaders in every market where we have fair access to customers. Let’s keep up the good work of planting seeds for ag trade by making our voices heard with Congress and the administration. We are already seeing good results, and a harvest of new and growing markets will come if we don’t give up hope.

Zippy Duvall

Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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