Agriculture is the Clear-Cut Winner with Sound Trade Policy

As Published in: The Peninsula

By Senator Joni Ernst 

Mexico and South Korea are racing for American beef and pork. In 2017 alone, the U.S. shattered records with beef exports hitting $7.27 billion and pork exports reaching $6.49 billion according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. For my home state of Iowa, one of the largest producers in the United States of both, this trend is keeping Iowans employed and the rural economy strong.

What’s driving this acceleration in demand? To start, our farmers and ranchers offer a high-quality product that people crave and trust. But more broadly, this demand and export growth does not happen without the right regulatory policies and trade deals in place.

Recent headwinds reverberating through the White House, evidenced most recently by the President’s decision to implement tariffs on imported steel and aluminum (raising the possibility of a strong retaliatory response on agriculture exports), have many in agriculture and livestock production deeply concerned. President Trump has indicated that he is ready to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and our FTA with South Korea or renegotiate new terms.  As we recently closed the seventh round of negotiations in Mexico City and have begun talks with Korea, it is clear that our agriculture industry is looking for answers.

I agree with the President on many things.  I also think his intentions on trade are good and flow from a strong desire to put America in the driver’s seat globally. A goal I share.  However, I do not share the President’s beef with the current agreements and hope we can land a resolution that modernizes NAFTA and fosters increased trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.

In fact, NAFTA, and trade deals like KORUS FTA – the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement – are keeping our farms and rural communities not just afloat, but at the forefront and rapidly growing. Far from an adversary, NAFTA is a boon to agriculture, allowing us to satisfy consumer demand that would otherwise be filled by nations like Brazil.

With all eyes on South Korea at the recent Winter Olympics where the world’s best athletes competed, let us bring attention back to the farm gate where some of the world’s hardest-working farmers and ranchers are competing for global market share. Spurred by the 2012 free trade agreement, South Korea is now the sixth largest market for U.S. ag products. The country of 51 million people imported $6.2 billion of agricultural products from the United States in 2016. KORUS has opened new, untapped markets across Asia – markets where the U.S. pork industry could lose the podium to Australia, Canada, Chile and the European Union if we were to revert back to pre-KORUS tariffs.

This is why I continue to lead a vocal effort to communicate the benefits of trade and a “do no harm” approach to the President and other key Administration officials.  My hope is these conversations with our allies start and finish with the premise that these agreements should be preserved.

Keeping the U.S. globally competitive has many levers. We recently passed a tax reform bill that will provide Americans needed tax relief while allowing our U.S. businesses to remain competitive and chart a path of expansion. I was proud to work with my Republican colleagues and President Trump to get this across the finish line.

Similarly, our trade deals ensure American exports remain strong and our economy growing. We should give producers a competitive advantage, not a disadvantage, and search for ways to showcase American products across the globe to meet the growing middle-class’ demand. Teaming this effort with regulatory reform to reduce red tape on a highly-regulated industry, we can create a recipe for success that will continue to push American exports to the top of the leaderboard.

Joni Ernst is a United States Senator from the State of Iowa and serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Read the column on The Peninsula’s website here.