Agriculture has been desperate for good news on the trade front this summer, and many of us breathed a sigh of relief when we saw a bit of that good news this week. While there are still serious issues to resolve and markets to open, U.S. agriculture can see a light on the horizon.
The Agriculture Department’s relief package, released just this week, promises to give many farmers the extra help they need to hold on through ongoing trade disputes with China and the EU. The package is not a fix-all, and we wouldn’t expect it to be. It will buy a little time, however, as the Administration takes a tough stance at the negotiating table—and that’s a goal we can all get behind. Farmers and ranchers want to see fair trade deals hammered out, and export opportunities expanded for American-grown products.
We are encouraged that one of the pillars of the relief package is market facilitation. USDA is doubling down on its commitment to expand markets for U.S. ag products with $200 million earmarked for programs that help farmers and ranchers find new markets. We cannot rely too heavily on one market if we want to help protect our industry from these kinds of hits down the road. There is no doubt that America’s farmers and ranchers have been successful wherever we have a fair playing field, so it’s time for us to get in the game in more markets around the world.
Looking at the initial list of products qualifying for tariff relief programs, it’s a good reminder of the wide variety of ag products we export as a nation—everything from pork and dairy to cranberries and almonds. This trade war continues to have a real impact from coast-to-coast, and we must continue to work together to keep our industry moving forward as a leader in the global marketplace. Of course, some sectors have been hit harder than others this year, and we know a variety of forces are at work eating away at farmers’ bottom lines in this down farm economy. Our priority continues to be trade over aid, and this USDA package plays a key role in getting us closer to achieving that goal.
That light on the trade horizon got even brighter with the news of an updated agreement with Mexico this week, and we’re excited for how this will set the stage for more successful negotiation outcomes down the road. Although we must address seasonal import surges, which can devastate U.S. fruit and vegetable growers, the proposed agreement with Mexico includes many positive updates, such as new biotechnology language that protects the latest in ag innovation from traditional biotechnology to new breeding techniques like gene editing—for the first time in a U.S. trade deal. This is the kind of deal we need to protect the advancements American agriculture is making in sustainability. The agreement also addresses geographic indicators, which will protect U.S. dairy products from unfair discrimination in the Mexican marketplace.
We cannot and do not expect to stop here. A fully successful and modernized NAFTA must include Canada, and we are hopeful that this proposal will bring us all back to the negotiating table to see that achieved. It’s time for Canada to address long standing issues like unfair dairy pricing schemes and grain grading standards, and America’s farmers and ranchers have great confidence in U.S. negotiators as they work to bring about a comprehensive deal that benefits all three countries.
Trade deals, like farming, are hard work. You must have the soil of ready markets to work with, plant the seeds of diplomacy, weed out anything harmful, tend and grow areas of agreement, and finally produce a deal that yields plentiful benefits overall. This work may be slow and hard at times, but it is worth the effort and will bring a harvest in rural America that boosts our economy and strengthens our nation.
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.