Commentary: Farmers would benefit from potential trade deals

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Bob Stallman
Bob Stallman
Shoppers visit a food market in Takayama, Japan. American farmers seek greater access to Japan for their crops and commodities, as part of a trade agreement being negotiated by a dozen nations on both sides of the Pacific.

As farmers and ranchers, we know it's tough to get the job done without the right tool. Earlier this year, Farm Bureau members spoke up to urge Congress to give U.S. trade negotiators an important tool to get the job done on trade agreements: trade promotion authority. Congress listened, worked across party lines and passed a trade promotion authority bill this summer. Now it's time for the administration to put this tool to good use.

Trade promotion authority legislation has unlocked the door to ambitious new trade agreements, and America's farmers and ranchers have a major stake in what happens next.

Our ability to reach markets around the world directly boosts the economy here at home. What we do each day on our farms and ranches creates and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in food production, energy and manufacturing across the country. U.S. agriculture exported a record $152 billion in food, fiber and energy products last year alone. But that number could soon drop off—by as much as $12 billion—if we can't keep reaching new customers.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated now and could open new markets from Asia to Canada. But the agreement can't be a success without first breaking down some long-standing trade barriers to U.S. agricultural products.

Japan's high tariffs have, for too long, limited American agricultural products such as beef, pork, rice and dairy. Japan's outrageous 770 percent tariff on rice has effectively shut out all competitors. Much closer to home, Canada's high tariffs on poultry and dairy are keeping those markets closed. Canada's 200 percent tariff on dairy is not in line with the goodwill and good trade relations we have long enjoyed with our close neighbors. It's time to open up those markets and give farmers, ranchers and consumers flexibility in buying and selling quality, healthful food.

[Editor's note: Disagreement about dairy policy prevented nations from completing TPP negotiations in Hawaii last week. The trade ministers of the 12 participating nations said they made "significant progress" in the talks, and "will continue work on resolving a limited number of remaining issues."]

U.S. agriculture is also ready for serious growth in markets on the other side of the Atlantic.

For too long, the European Union has let politics rather than science set trade standards. U.S. farmers and ranchers grow safe, high-quality food. But the EU has decided it can reject our products—products that have already met both U.S. and World Trade Organization safety standards—based on the EU's so-called "precautionary principle." Any animal treated with antibiotics for its health or fed biotech grain cannot become part of a meal in Europe, despite the proven safety of those methods—and the complete lack of proof to the contrary.

Europe's habit of ignoring science needs to stop. Last year, U.S. farmers and ranchers exported $12.7 billion in products to the EU, while the EU exported $18.7 billion worth of agricultural products to the U.S. It's time to even out that trade balance with scientific standards and fair labeling guidelines.

America's farmers and ranchers are ready to get to work in new markets across the globe. But Congress and the administration must continue to work together to complete agreements that will keep U.S. agriculture moving forward. The tools are in place, the roadmap is clear and it's time to get the engine running.

(Bob Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.