CEDAR RAPIDS — Agriculture means trade, so when he hears presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump express opposition to trade deals, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey gets concerned.
Iowa farmers and food processors produce “way more” than 3 million people can consume, the Spirit Lake corn and soybean farmer and third-term ag secretary said Thursday. Northey was in Cedar Rapids to welcome the National Association of County Office Employees’ convention. They are the people who staff the USDA Farm Service Agency offices.
Iowa annually exports $1 billion worth of pork, for example, and almost 40 percent of its soybean crop, Northey said.
“Trade is hugely important” to Iowa agriculture, Northey said. “We ship almost 40 percent of our soybeans overseas and 70 percent of our exports go to China.”
He understands that some people have concerns with Chinese trade, especially enforcement of trade agreements.
“But we don’t want to lose them as customers,” he said. “I would argue they need our beans as much as we need to sell them.”
So it worries him when the presidential candidates talk about trade, especially their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
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“How serious are they?” Northey said. “Are they really looking at tariffs or blowing up NAFTA?”
Trump has called trade a zero-sum game, meaning the U.S. is losing if it imports more than it exports. He has talked of levying high tariffs on companies that move jobs outside the U.S.
Clinton’s stance has shifted in recent years because of what she calls a “different political environment.” Although she supported the TPP as secretary of state, she now opposes it as a candidate.
If the TPP is defeated by Congress or never brought to a vote, “I don’t think anything changes very much tomorrow or next month or next year other than the loss of opportunity,” Northey said.
Long-term, however, “we will be on the less aggressive side of trade, with less opportunity to decrease barriers in the future, and I think it has serious long-term effects.”
There’s more, he added. The U.S. stands to lose its leadership on trade if it doesn’t participate in the TPP.
“It’s not only important for the ag community, but for the country,” Northey said. “It would seem like it would make sense for us to be very careful about things that could damage (trade) and try to be aggressive in those things that could improve that.”
Northey also had meetings scheduled in Delaware and Benton counties Thursday.