Guest Columnist

Steering a path back to stable trade agreements

Corn basks in the late afternoon sun and storage bins can be seen at a farm along LeFebure Rd. SW in Cedar Rapids in this 2014 file photo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Corn basks in the late afternoon sun and storage bins can be seen at a farm along LeFebure Rd. SW in Cedar Rapids in this 2014 file photo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Here in Iowa, where every third row of corn and soybeans are exported and trade with overseas markets add about $53 per animal to each pig and $287 per beef cow, it’s easy to see how trade keeps Iowa farmers afloat during raging tides of bad weather and low market pricing.

While international trade and access to global markets is essential for Iowa agriculture to prosper, it’s also the rising tide that keeps all boats afloat for Iowans, even if they don’t grow crops or raise livestock. Agriculture accounts for one out of every five jobs in the state — including the growing and innovative STEM-related fields such as computer programming, engineering, agronomy, animal science and renewable energy. In all, more than 100,000 jobs in Iowa depend on exports, much of it from farm products.

Yet, in all my time in agriculture, I’ve never felt as uncomfortable about the future of trade for Iowa farmers and Iowans as I do today.

The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, hangs in the balance. With 49 percent of Iowa agriculture exports being sold to Canada or Mexico, it’s critical for the negotiators to upgrade, but retain, NAFTA. Whether you live in urban or rural neighborhoods, whether you farm or don’t, Iowans need to take the time to let our representatives in Congress know that NAFTA matters for us all. The Trump administration needs to hear this unified message from us all.

It’s not just about NAFTA. The United States is missing out on negotiations as other countries move forward securing deals as part of the high standard Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. In early 2017, the United States dropped out of the TPP, even though U.S. agriculture strongly backed the TPP as a vehicle to significantly reduce trade barriers and gain unprecedented access to the valuable and growing Asian markets, including Japan, Singapore and Vietnam.

Today, every cut of U.S. beef shipped into Japan costs more than it should because of a steep tariff, which is why many Japanese consumers turn to cheaper Australian beef, which has a much lower tariff.

It’s much the same for Iowa’s other primary agricultural exports to Asia, such as our pork, corn, soybeans and ethanol co-products. All of those commodities would have benefited from improved access to fast-growing Asian economies to increase sales and build sustainable markets. Instead, the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP created a vacuum in world trade and influence and leaves U.S. farmers drowning in surplus commodities.

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President Donald Trump indicated recently that his administration may consider putting the United States back into the TPP. I say it’s time to steer that ship back on course, and continue to aim toward the stable shores of the TPP and NAFTA. Trade is just too important for Iowa agriculture, and the economy of our state, to jump ship and merely hope the rising tide of opportunity somehow will return for us all.

• Craig Hill of Ackworth is president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation

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