Farmers for Free Trade this week implored all 2024 presidential candidates to prioritize new market access trade agreements to strengthen U.S. agriculture and decrease reliance on China. The organization also called on the presidential candidates to hold China accountable in a responsible manner that does not endanger U.S. food and agriculture’s largest export market or threaten American farmers with new retaliatory tariffs.
In a letter, the organization says, “The U.S. needs to again take the lead in negotiating new FTAs with other countries and work to strengthen and reform the rules-based multilateral trading system.”
Such agreements could protect American workers and the environment, help contain China’s growing geopolitical influence, and open new export markets for our farmers by meaningfully reducing and eliminating tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers. The letter, which comes shortly before the first presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle, was sent to all presidential campaigns.
Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, says the U.S. has stood on the sidelines in world trade long enough. “We’re certainly still trading. But you know, the U.S. is going to run into a food and ag trade deficit this year of nearly $18 billion, a historic high in terms of how much more we’re importing than exporting. And some of that is year-round produce that’s coming in at its high cost. I get that. But part of it is it’s been ten years since the U.S. entered into a new free trade agreement. So, we’ve updated NAFTA and we’ve updated South Korea, but it’s been ten years since we broke into a new country.”
While the U.S. has been inactive in looking for new trade opportunities, Kuehl says other countries have been busy.
Kuehl says, “In the past ten years, China has entered into dozens of free trade agreements, and the EU entering into free trade agreements. Our allies and our adversaries alike are opening new markets. And the U.S. because of, I think, frankly, politics on both the left and the right, we’ve got scared of trade agreements, and so we’re not playing anymore.”
As a result, U.S. commodities go into other markets much more expensive than goods from countries that have a free trade agreement with that same market. He talks about what makes trade agreements a political “hot potato”.
He says, “I think there is a perception that trade can outsource manufacturing jobs. That’s the big concern is that our steel industry or our textiles went overseas, and people blamed that on trade agreements. I would argue, number one, a lot of job loss in those industries has been through efficiency. You’ve had automation, and that certainly led to a lot of job loss. And number two, I think we’ve learned how to do trade agreements better in the past decade. You look at the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement negotiated by President Trump, passed by the Congress with broad bipartisan support, and it has very strong labor provisions in it to make sure we’re not losing jobs as we trade.”
Kuehl says his group wants to see America take the USMCA template and try to open up some new markets. More than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S., and 20 percent of U.S. farm revenue comes from exports.