Trade is more than a product crossing a border; it is vital to U.S. agriculture and numerous associated American jobs. That was the message delivered by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts yesterday when he addressed the Washington International Trade Association as part of a discussion with Max Baucus, U.S. ambassador to China and a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Grant Aldonas, executive director of the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown Law and a former undersecretary of commerce for international trade.
“There is a great deal of frustration in farm country because we are missing opportunities to grow our exports,” the Republican senator from Kansas said in prepared remarks. “I believe that the renegotiation of NAFTA could provide just that opportunity. Strengthening and modernizing NAFTA should result in even stronger economic growth for the United States and for Canada and Mexico.”
Roberts noted that, like many others, he has been concerned about the impact some NAFTA proposals could have on the agricultural value chain. He and other senators have requested that an economic analysis be conducted to illustrate the impact on the full supply chain of industries involved before any changes in NAFTA are finalized.
“Trade is more than a product crossing a border. A seed planted in a field might ultimately become a meal for a family, but in between you’ll find the combine that harvests it, the facility that processes it, and perhaps most important the people employed at every step of the way.”
“U.S. agriculture has grown because of agreements like NAFTA, and from the farmer in the field to the grocer in the store, American workers have benefited from that growth.”
Senator Roberts, who is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over U.S. trade policy, indicated that White House officials have tried to sell a contentious NAFTA five-year “sunset” proposal on the premise that it would actually increase agricultural exports.
“The idea you’re going to terminate every trade agreement you agree on in five years — what the heck is that all about?” Roberts said, relating to the panel that “people that have met with me and expressed that view said, ‘You won’t believe how many ag products you’re going to sell in that last year, because they won’t know if a trade agreement will come the next year.’”
“I said, ‘My God, man! We need to increase our exports now. We need to sell our products,” he said, adding that he is already facing a challenging road ahead on a new farm bill in Congress that is expected to do little to provide relief to an agricultural industry suffering from low commodity prices and widespread uncertainty on trade.