June 29, 2017

North Dakota’s Skunes Testifies on NAFTA at USTR Hearing

The North American Free Trade Agreement is critical for corn farmers and agriculture at large, and continuing its long-term success is a top priority to our members, National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Kevin Skunes testified Tuesday at a hearing of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to examine priorities for the upcoming NAFTA renegotiations.

“North America has become the most important export market for the U.S. corn industry,” Skunes testified. “Corn farmers export about 20 percent of our annual corn crop, and exports account for about one-third of our income. Today, the agriculture economy is experiencing its fourth year of a downturn marked by low commodity prices. I cannot stress enough how important export markets are to our ability to stay in business.”

Skunes, a farmer from Arthur, North Dakota, highlighted how NAFTA has positively impacted U.S. agricultural trade with Canada and Mexico since its implementation in 1994.

“Free trade has benefitted American farmers, and NAFTA has been extremely valuable to our industry,” said Skunes. “Twenty-three years of investment has led to a sizeable increase in trade. Since 1994, U.S. corn exports to NAFTA partners have increased more than seven-fold. Today, we export a record volume of more than 14 million metric tons of corn to Mexico and Canada, valued at $2.68 billion. In 2016, corn exports to these two neighbors supported 25,000 jobs, on top of helping support 300,000 U.S. corn farmers.”

Mexico is the largest export market for U.S. corn as well as a significant market for distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Canada is a top-10 export market for corn and DDGS, and the number one export market for U.S. ethanol.

NCGA’s top priority for NAFTA modernization is to preserve duty-free access for corn and corn products, and to expand market access for corn in all forms, including livestock products, DDGS, and ethanol, Skunes told government officials.

“We look forward to working with USTR and the Administration to build on the success corn farmers and the broader agriculture industry have enjoyed under NAFTA.”

Click here for Skunes’ full prepared testimony.

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USGC: NAFTA Modernization Efforts Should Seek to Ease Uncertainty For Customers, U.S. Farmers

Concerns about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have disrupted relationships with longstanding customers of U.S. grains and caused significant concern in farm country, U.S. Grains Council (USGC) Chairman Chip Councell testified Tuesday to a panel of government officials examining priorities ahead of NAFTA renegotiation talks.

Councell, a farmer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, spoke at the hearing to provide information and offer personal insights into the impact of NAFTA changes to the U.S. corn, sorghum and barley industries.

He told panelists he has been to Mexico twice this year and helped to host a team of Mexican grain buyers visiting the United States to talk with farmers and policy makers. Through those conversations, he learned firsthand that buyers’ concerns are translating into dollars lost in farm country.

“Because our agriculture economies have grown to be so closely intertwined, this trade agreement in particular is critical to my business. The last several months have highlighted how important it is to maintain this strong, stable relationship if we are going to continue to grow,” Councell said.

Councell told panelists that the Council has “strong but unconfirmed evidence” Mexico will purchase corn from South America later this year, and that he himself took a futures position for his entire 2017 corn crop when withdrawal talk began, fearing what might happen to markets as the new crop approached.

“What is happening now in our relationship with Mexican buyers will change how the Mexican industry invests in infrastructure, impact our demand for years to come and impact individual producers like myself financially,” he said.

Councell said that rising demand for feed and food has created new opportunities for grain and oilseed exports to Canada and Mexico over the past three decades, which have been tariff-free thanks to NAFTA. Proximity and natural logistical advantages have led to efficiencies and integration on both sides of the border and helped dramatically expand U.S. farmers’ exports to Mexico, in particular.

With these successes in mind, Councell urged panelists to ensure negotiators make every effort to do no harm to existing markets and avoid retaliation against U.S. agriculture. He also outlined improvements the Council would suggest for the agreement, including elements drawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text as well as updated sanitary and phytosanitary, biotechnology synchronization and energy provisions.

The U.S. Grains Council is a private, non-profit organization that works to build demand and develop markets for U.S. corn, sorghum, barley and related products including ethanol, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), and corn gluten feed and meal.

The Council hosts programs in Canada and Mexico and has strong relationships with the feed and livestock industries in both countries.

Canada was the ninth largest export market for U.S. corn; the seventh largest export market for U.S. DDGS; and the top export market for U.S. ethanol in the 2015/2016 marketing year.

Mexico was the top export market for U.S. corn in the 2015/2016 marketing year and is a steady and significant buyer of U.S. barley, sorghum and DDGS. The Council has maintained an office in Mexico for 35 years, helping the Mexican feed and livestock industry develop through training, information exchange, technology transfer and market development.

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Syngenta Statement on the Jury Verdict in the Viptera trial in Kansas City, Kansas

A Kansas jury issued a verdict Friday in the first trial brought by U.S. farmers alleging Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices through the careless marketing of its genetically modified MIR 162 corn seed.  Syngenta issued the following statement on June 23, 2017,

 “We are disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.  The case is without merit and we will move forward with an appeal and continue to defend the rights of American farmers to access safe and effective U.S.- approved technologies.

Syngenta commercialized Agrisure Viptera in full compliance with U.S. regulatory and legal requirements, including USDA, EPA, and FDA regulations.  Viptera had also received approval in the key import markets recommended at the time by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and other industry associations.

Syngenta believes that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technology to help them increase their productivity and yield.  American farmers shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms.

 More information on the litigation is available at www.vipterachinafacts.com.”

Officials with Syngenta say the company plans to file an appeal.

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