A Promising Harvest for Ag Trade

Viewpoints / The Zipline January 29, 2020

Guest Column by Scott VanderWal, AFBF Vice President

America’s farmers and ranchers are eager to turn over a new leaf on the trade front. From the signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement today to the groundbreaking Phase One trade deal with China earlier this month to the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement last fall, the Administration is answering the call to expand trade opportunities for U.S. agriculture. And there’s no question that we are eager to get back to business in the global marketplace.

Of course, farmers and ranchers will need to see results before they celebrate. But those results will happen only if we negotiate and sign trade deals to pave the way for increased trade.

Time and again, America’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the challenge of competing in new markets.

The trade war has taken its toll on our farm and ranch land and rural communities, and restoration of our markets cannot come soon enough. While we all pray for Mother Nature to be kinder this year, farmers and ranchers across the country are ready not only to return to full steam in production, but also begin to explore opportunities for meeting the demand of expanding markets.

With USMCA ratified by the U.S. and Mexico, we have only to wait for the Canadian parliament to approve the deal as well before it can go into full effect. It’s no secret that the idea of reopening NAFTA gave us some heartburn in the ag community, but we have come out on the other side with a stronger, modern agreement that has created a framework for other ag trade deals. Those improvements didn’t happen by accident, either: this deal is testament to our strong grassroots efforts working across the ag community and with Congress and the Administration. And while it may not be perfect, we came out with a deal that not only protected agriculture’s gains from NAFTA but will also increase our ag exports to Canada and Mexico by $2 billion.

The Phase One deal with China promises even greater returns, more than double what China’s ag purchases were before the trade war. This is a tall order—and far better than we could have hoped for when this trade war began nearly two years ago. When President Trump came to our annual convention in Austin last week, he expressed his confidence in America’s farmers and ranchers to meet the increased demand of an anticipated $80 billion in ag purchases from China over the next two years. I think we can all agree that we are more than up to that challenge. A question we’ve been asked is whether these amazing increases in agricultural exports to China are realistic. Will they actually happen? We are heartened by the Administration’s assurance their work isn’t done: the deal will be monitored to ensure that China lives up to its commitments.

Although we have passed some significant mile markers this month, the race to expand U.S. agriculture’s global market share is far from over. We are urging the Administration to build on this momentum and complete a full trade agreement with China to secure fair and free trade there once and for all. We will also be keeping a close watch on progress with EU trade talks to bring balance to ag trade and remove the continent’s non-scientific barriers to our ag products, and we anticipate the upcoming talks with the UK can expand an already strong market for our farm exports.

The remaining hurdles are real, and it will take time to rebuild our markets once these new deals go into effect. But the accomplishments we are celebrating this month are proof that these challenges can be overcome. Time and again, America’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the challenge of competing in new markets. Our ag exports have traditionally enjoyed a surplus, not by chance, but because of the sterling reputation of American-grown food, fuel and fiber. Thanks to these new trade deals, we can continue to lead the way in growing the highest quality, and most sustainable, ag products in the world.

Scott VanderWal is a third-generation corn and soybean farmer and cattle feeder from Volga, South Dakota. He is president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau and vice president of the American Farm Bureau.

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