Guest Columnist

Trade is top issue for Iowa Agriculture

Soybeans grow in a field near Morning Sun, Iowa on Sept. 2, 2018.  (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Soybeans grow in a field near Morning Sun, Iowa on Sept. 2, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Chuck Grassley and Mike Naig, guest columnists

As we start the new year and look ahead to what we as public servants can achieve, there are a number of important issues facing Iowa’s agricultural industry where our roles on the state and federal levels intersect. Recently, one issue has been defending and advocating on behalf of biofuels workers and the farmers who grow the made-in-America fuel. Working together, along with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds, we not only fended off moneyed oil interests opposed to competition from America’s farmers, but finally delivered on President Donald Trump’s promise to allow for year-round sales of higher blends of ethanol, known as E15.

Our work for Iowa’s farmers will continue in 2019. The top issue, without a doubt, is international trade. Opening new markets and breaking down barriers to allow Iowa’s farmers to export the best agricultural products in the world to places across the globe is something we’ll be working for every day.

Number one on the agenda is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which modernizes the 25 year old North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has been a tremendous benefit to our Iowa farmers and rural communities. Mexico and Canada are Iowa’s top two trading partners, receiving 47 percent of Iowa’s exports valued at $5.6 billion, according to a 2017assessment by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Trump administration successfully concluded USMCA negotiations last fall, maintaining access that our agricultural products have enjoyed under NAFTA and securing even more market access for our dairy, poultry and egg producers.

Unfortunately, our producers are unlikely to realize the market access promises of USMCA while the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico remain. Because of these tariffs, Mexico and Canada have imposed retaliatory tariffs on American exports. Mexico has hit our pork exports with a 20 percent tariff. According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, this is costing our pork producers $12 per animal, meaning industrywide losses of $1.5 billion annually. Paired with Chinese retaliatory tariffs on pork, soybeans, corn and wheat, our farmers need relief fast.

Before Congress considers legislation to implement USMCA, the Administration should lift tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from our top two trading partners and secure the elimination of retaliatory tariffs that stand to wipe out gains our farmers have made over the past two and a half decades. As one of Iowa’s U.S. senators and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is tasked with leading the implementation of USMCA in the Senate, and as the secretary of agriculture for one of the largest pork, dairy, poultry, soybean, corn and cattle-exporting states in the nation, we’ll be working all hands on deck to get the job done. But we need the Administration to help us pave the way.

The productivity of our state’s farmers is unmatched. When our rich soils are paired with the skill of our state’s farmers and cutting edge tools designed to optimize our agricultural production, the results are dramatic. Having free trade and robust export markets are critical to thousands of Iowans’ livelihoods. We join Iowa’s farmers and business leaders from across our state to urge Congress and the administration to work expeditiously, fairly and without partisan political motivation to implement this vitally important agreement with Canada and Mexico.

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• Chuck Grassley is a Republican U.S. senator from Iowa and is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy. Mike Naig is Iowa’s Republican secretary of agriculture.

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