Last week I had the opportunity to visit with the President about the challenges our farmers and ranchers are facing and the implications of increased tariffs. Although it is clear we must put a stop to China’s blatant violation of international trade laws, the current situation is precarious for rural America, and we need to open other markets to help offset our losses as soon as possible.
In my conversation with the President, I stressed that Missouri farmers are patriots who understand the need for better trade deals that are both free and fair. They love America and are willing to hang tough to help make our nation stronger. However, farm country is hurting. Over the past five years, we have seen a fifty percent decrease in net farm income stemming from persistently low commodity prices. The ag community can only handle so much. Farmers need to see substantial progress in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, new market access for their goods, and certainty that new trading patterns lead to long term growth.
We know our trading partners have not always treated us fairly. In particular, I have been a strong critic of China’s continued flaunting of international trade laws, from their bullying of regional partners to theft of U.S. intellectual property through forced technology transfer and corporate espionage. Growing Chinese influence and unfair trading practices are a threat to peace around the world, and I stand behind the President and the Pentagon in their recent labeling of China as a “strategic competitor.” Additionally, significant trade distortions are also coming from our closest allies. Canada places tariffs as high as 270% on certain US dairy products and has reworked their dairy classification system to specifically keep U.S. products at a competitive disadvantage.
I shared with the President that we have made great progress in revitalizing our economy by reforming our antiquated tax code and focusing on improving the substance of our trade agreements. However, the opening of new markets for trade is essential. I have expressed this to Cabinet level secretaries handling trade, as well, in private discussions with Director of the White House Trade Council Peter Navarro and U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
There are signs that progress is being made. The announcement of a framework agreement with the EU that would move to zero tariff and non-tariff trade barriers on industrial goods, increase U.S. soybean exports to the EU, and broaden partnerships on energy are meaningful steps towards a real deal with the world’s largest trading bloc. In addition, Ambassador Lighthizer has indicated to me that work is progressing to finalize NAFTA renegotiations soon. I am cautiously optimistic that we can address trade with the EU and our NAFTA trading partners while expanding into new markets and dealing with China’s unfair trading practices in a meaningful manner.
As a life-long farmer, I know it is a tough time in farm country right now and we need substantial progress in opening new markets and removing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. It is my privilege to share the farmer’s voice with the President. I appreciate his willingness to listen, his acknowledgment and understanding of our concerns, and his commitment to ensuring trade is fair and open to benefit all Missouri farmers. That is the goal. The time to act is now.