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U.S. trade deals offer hope (Editorial)

by | Feb 1, 2020

Farmers and their advocacy groups cheered the United States and China’s signing of an initial trade pact Jan. 15, easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
The next day, the U.S. Senate approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, essentially solidifying the update of trade rules for North America.
While the news of both deals is great for the farm sector, it’s also a signal that the agriculture industry’s efforts to inform and advise government must not skip a beat.
According to documents released by the White House outlining details of the U.S.-China deal, China’s imports of U.S. agricultural products, “such as soybeans, cotton, grains, meats, ethanol, seafood, and the full range of other agricultural products,” will total at least $80 billion over the next two years.
It’s an ambitious goal. China has never bought more than $26 billion in U.S. agricultural products in a year.
The agriculture chapter of the deal addresses structural barriers to trade and will support a dramatic expansion of U.S. food, agriculture and seafood product exports, increasing American farm and fishery income, generating more rural economic activity, and promoting job growth, according to a U.S. Trade Representative fact sheet. A multitude of non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture and seafood products are addressed, including for meat, poultry, seafood, rice, dairy, infant formula, horticultural products, animal feed and feed additives, pet food, and products of agriculture biotechnology.
The United States dropped plans to extend tariffs to an additional $160 billion worth of Chinese imports. That move, originally scheduled for Dec. 15, would have extended the tariffs to just about everything China ships to the United States. The U.S. also cut in half, to 7.5 percent, the U.S. tariffs on another $110 billion in Chinese goods. Still, the United States maintains tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese imports, nearly two-thirds of the total. It’s a figure that would have been unthinkable before President Donald Trump took office and adopted a far more aggressive approach to China and trade. But it is still unclear what China is going to do with the retaliatory tariffs it has imposed on U.S. products, and that’s all the more reason for ag groups to stay vigilant on improving trade.
“This milestone moment in the negotiation process bodes well for de-escalation of the tension between our two countries and making further progress,” said ASA President Bill Gordon, a soy farmer from Worthington, Minn. “Yet, as an industry, we have a lingering unease regarding the tariff on U.S. beans, which was not addressed in this deal. China needs to take action, and, as a goodwill gesture, offer to remove its retaliatory tax on our soybeans.”
Corn and wheat groups also celebrated the deals, noting it’s just the first of hopefully many steps.
“Signing the phase one agreement with China is a step in the right direction to resolving the trade dispute with China and restoring the trading relationship between our two countries,” said National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Ross. “As more specifics become available, we will closely monitor implementation to ensure that the commitments are upheld and that U.S. corn farmers resume trading with Chinese customers. NCGA urges the Administration to quickly commence phase two negotiations and work to resolve retaliatory tariffs.”
Whether it’s in the field, at a town council meeting or on Capitol Hill, even this time of year, a farmer’s work is never done.
After years of getting knocked down and finding ways to get back up, let these wins be motivation to take another step forward.

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