Image of wheat field to illustrate report on global wheat production

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement and the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement. These were the last free trade agreements completed by the United States. In the decade since, there has been plenty of negotiating, but nothing to show for it.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is on its way to ratification without the United States. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is indefinitely on ice. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) modernization effort is now likely to slip into 2019. An update to KORUS made only cosmetic changes.

Meanwhile no other country has agreed to sit down at the negotiating table as the United States slaps unilateral tariffs on close allies and strategic competitors alike.

The familiar African proverb says that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Unfortunately for farmers, that grass is the wheat growing in their fields as the big guys in the United States, China and other countries escalate this trade fight.

In a trade war, agriculture always gets hit first and the effects are likely to force overseas customers who want quality U.S. farm products to compromise or seek alternative supplies and to further erode the incomes of farm families who strongly support addressing the real concerns about trade barriers.

That is why in 2016, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) called for World Trade Organization (WTO) cases intended to push China to meet its WTO commitments on domestic support and tariff rate quota management. We are glad the Trump Administration supports and is pursuing those cases. That is also why USW will continue to press for new trade agreements, including U.S. accession to TPP.

USW and NAWG know that farmers still want our organizations to keep fighting for fair trade opportunities because they know they can compete successfully in the world based on the quality and value of what they produce — given the freedom to do so.

We would prefer, however, to see our government do that first within the processes already in place.

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By Gary Baily, Washington Grain Commission Chairman, USW Director and a wheat farmer from St. John, Wash.

As Washington Grain Commissioners, trade has consumed a great deal of our time this past year. Relationships with our international partners are critical to the survival of our trade with countries such as Japan. Most of us have seen the proposed effects on our trade with Japan if the United States stays outside of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): a phased in $65/MT tariff reduction for TPP countries, U.S. market share for wheat falling from 50 percent to about 23 percent, and a reduction of baseline futures prices of $0.50 at a time when prices are already depressed.

I have been raising wheat in Eastern Washington for almost 30 years and have seen wheat fall victim to political whims several times. Looking back, however, I have not been as anxious about the future of our industry since the financial crisis of the 1980s. The divisive nature of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations and the conclusion of the above mentioned TPP trade treaty without the United States cause concern about the long-term heath of our profession. This is especially true for young farmers who may not have the equity or financial backing to weather these storms.

Adding to the current trade environment is President Trump’s announcement that tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are being considered. The effects of those tariffs have yet to be quantified. If enacted, agriculture exports will likely be targeted for retaliation.

It is time for the President to consider the ramifications of his proposed tariffs, and acknowledge the positive contributions that our industry has for trade, and re-engage in TPP.

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By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

With the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), U.S. agriculture groups are looking for other ways to improve trade policy across the Asia-Pacific region. This week, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) joined 86 other food and agriculture organizations in a letter to President Donald Trump highlighting the importance of this region for U.S. agriculture.

Noting the large and growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region, the organizations wrote that reducing or eliminating tariffs and other restrictive agricultural policies would help consumers see more of the higher quality food and agricultural products they desire but cannot supply locally.

The letter also highlights the importance of free trade for agriculture, especially given the context of aggressive trade negotiations by competing countries looking for markets in the region.

“While many in our sector strongly supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we hope future agreements build upon the valuable aspects of that agreement to increase our market access in the Asia-Pacific,” the organizations wrote. “We welcome an opportunity to work with your Administration to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers, processors and food companies do not fall behind … in this vitally important economic region.”

With unprofitable farm gate prices, a challenging volume of grain stocks and a strong U.S. dollar, remaining competitive in the growing overseas markets like those in the Asia-Pacific region is vital to the economic health of U.S. farmers. And USW believes healthy food and agriculture sectors are also a vital part of meeting demand around the world.

That is why the letter, with USW among the signatories, specifically expresses the willingness of these sectors to work with the Administration to “preserve and expand” trade policy gains, both for the sake of U.S. farmers and their customers who benefit from expanded access to quality products.

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As promised, on the first working day of his presidency, Donald J. Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and gave notice to Mexico and Canada that the United States intends to renegotiate some parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

For decades, U.S. presidents of both parties have been largely consistent in their views on trade agreements. The TPP vision began under President George W. Bush, and was almost fulfilled under President Barack Obama — two presidents who agreed on few other policy areas. They both believed that opening borders to (mostly) free flow of trade in goods and services would benefit its TPP partners in the Asia-Pacific region and, in turn, U.S. industries.

As producers of high quality wheat classes, U.S. wheat farmers are oriented towards international markets. Through decades of experience, the industry also recognizes that free trade agreements like TPP and NAFTA are good for our customers looking to expand their milling and wheat foods enterprises in part with U.S. wheat quality and value. For exporters and importers, these agreements also offer rules to ensure that the resulting “free trade” is also “fair trade” or close to it.

It is clear that the Trump Administration does see some value in the existing trade agreements. Its next action on trade was to request a panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement body in the U.S. trade enforcement case about excessive Chinese subsidies. This request, made on January 25, starts the official litigation process under WTO rules.

One could be forgiven for experiencing a bit of trade policy “whiplash.” On Day 1, President Trump withdrew from TPP alleging it is not strong enough for American workers; on Day 3 his Administration used WTO rules to act on behalf of American farmers. The new trade enforcement rules under TPP would have been much stronger than WTO rules in most respects. Now that TPP is gone, the United States must work within rather cumbersome WTO rules across most of the Asia-Pacific, at least until new trade deals are negotiated.

The statement directing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to withdraw from TPP also directed it “to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.” USW continues to support new agreements that expand free, rules-based trade, as TPP would have done, and encourage that agricultural interests be able to continue to provide input into those negotiations.

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By Dalton Henry, Vice President of Policy

By submitting the draft “Statement of Administrative Action” (SAA) to the U.S. Congress on Aug. 12, 2016, the U.S. Trade Representative moved one-step closer to final consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The SAA describes actions necessary to implement the provisions of TPP and contains details about how U.S. law would need to change to adopt TPP. Submission is required under the terms of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill passed in 2015 before Congress can consider the agreement.

Under TPA, the President has authority to conclude trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up or down vote. This pre-empts legislative amendments from derailing the careful balance struck in trade agreement negotiations. Less well-known TPA provisions give Congress an opportunity to establish priorities in negotiations, specify necessary reports and provide timelines for consideration of agreements. TPA states that a draft SAA must be submitted to Congress at least 30 days prior to submission of the draft legislation that implements a trade agreement, setting up a potential vote on TPP this fall.

To continue compliance with TPA, the U.S. Trade Representative must still produce three reports detailing the agreement’s impact on key areas such as the environment, labor laws and U.S. employment, and then work with Congress to submit the draft implementing bill for a vote. As work continues to address congressional concerns about the agreement that are predominately related to non-agricultural issues, the Administration has not yet signaled when the implementing bill will be ready.

President Obama maintains that final consideration and approval of TPP can and should be accomplished this year, despite increasingly negative rhetoric on trade coming from the U.S. presidential campaigns. TPP and the Asian and Latin American markets it affects are also key priorities for the wheat industry. The agreement stands as the only potential answer from the United States to competitors gaining more favorable trade access for their farmers within the Pacific Rim by continuing to negotiate and implement separate trade agreements. The submission of the SAA this month is a step in the right direction for U.S. farmers and their customers who need a wider variety of wheat classes and quality to meet growing demand for new wheat foods.

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By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy

Last week marked the annual release of the National Trade Estimate (NTE) to Congress by the Offices of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR). The NTE report is a 474-page- list of trade barriers facing U.S. companies and producers. It documents a range of trade barriers, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS), technical and market access restrictions. USW submitted a host of concerns to USTR on October 28, 2015.

The report highlights a few major accomplishments from 2015, including completion of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the U.S. ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement — the first multilateral trade agreement in the WTO’s 20-year history. Beyond the successes of the past year, the report also lays out a roadmap of future work for USTR. Numerous wheat industry priorities made the listing, two of which are highlighted here.

A new addition to the 2016 report was China’s administration of their tariff-rate quota (TRQ) system, which Chinese millers and USW have repeatedly identified as a major hurdle in expanding the use of U.S. wheat in China. The report stated, “Market access promised through the tariff-rate quota system set up pursuant to China’s WTO accession agreement has yet to be fully realized.” Each year China completely uses the portion of the TRQ allocated directly to flour millers. However, the portion held by the state is not fully utilized and almost never reallocated as required by the WTO agreement.

China is not the only country where a TRQ keeps out potential wheat exports. Nearly two decades ago, Brazil committed to a 750,000 ton duty-free TRQ. The NTE report notes that Brazil never opened the TRQ, and therefore has imported no wheat under it. Without either ad hoc access, which Brazil opened in 2013 and 2014, or a functioning TRQ, Brazilian millers must pay a 10 percent tariff to purchase supplies anywhere outside of the Mercosur trade bloc. That leaves the United States, Canada and others at a significant price disadvantage.

These two barriers are just a preview of the issues listed by USTR. USW will continue to work with our partners to pursue resolutions to these barriers that hinder our customer’s ability to purchase U.S. wheat.

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By Ben Conner, USW Deputy Director of Policy

A professor once told me this about achieving goals: “If you don’t write it down, it will never happen.” On behalf of the farmers we represent, USW takes a similar approach to our policy priorities: we write them down for the board to review every year. That happened again last week at the USW Board of Directors meeting in Washington, DC.

USW divides policy goals into three general categories: the World Trade Organization (WTO), free trade agreements (FTAs) and U.S. government policies. USW priorities in all three categories reflect our mission, which is ultimately to enhance the profitability of U.S. wheat producers and their customers.

The WTO category includes both trade enforcement and negotiations. A major policy priority is to ensure that wheat-producing countries follow WTO rules. Right now, a number of major developing countries are blatantly ignoring those rules, costing U.S. farmers in the form of lower exports and prices, and hurting their overseas customers in the form of more expensive domestic supplies. Studies conducted for USW estimated U.S. wheat farmers are losing more than $1 billion in revenue from domestic support policies in just four countries: China, Turkey, Brazil and India. Some of those countries have blatantly ignored WTO import rules in order to protect domestic wheat sectors. That is unacceptable and underscores the need to enforce past trade commitments. Similarly, our board supports negotiations through the WTO that create a more level playing field, but opposes rules that weaken current disciplines in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture or in continued negotiations under the failed Doha framework.

Free Trade Agreements are another priority. If the WTO negotiations remain at an impasse, aggressive market access gains will only come through bilateral regional sectoral trade agreements. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is now signed and, hopefully, will soon be ratified by legislatures including the U.S. Congress. Beyond that, the wheat industry is hoping for rapid TPP expansion to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as to new FTA opportunities.

Finally, U.S. government policies also affect U.S. wheat export potential. One of our priorities is on-going funding for the beneficial federal market promotion programs that — along with investment from state wheat commissions — help organizations like USW provide valuable services and information to customers around the world. USW also supports an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Now that we have written our 2016 Policy Priorities, it is time to make it happen. We are passionate about the profitability of farmers and their overseas customers, so we will be working hard to remove the policy obstacles in the way.

 

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By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy

Representatives from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating countries are set to sign the agreement in New Zealand next week. Though signing the pact is primarily ceremonial, it marks another step forward in the long process of putting the world’s largest free trade agreement into action.

In the months since the final agreement announcement, the TPP collected many new endorsements, particularly among business groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its endorsement Jan. 6, while encouraging the Obama Administration to work with Congress and industry members on unresolved concerns.

After the Feb. 4 signing attention will largely shift to the U.S. Congress, where leaders have so far hesitated to commit to any timing for a potential vote in part because much work is needed before a vote can even be considered. The International Trade Commission (ITC), which held a hearing on the agricultural portions of the agreement earlier this month, is accepting formal testimony on the merits of the agreement until Feb. 15. Their final report due May 18 will incorporate those comments, required by this past summer’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill.

With that ITC report as an official “scorecard” of the TPP, the administration will work with Congressional leaders to find time for a vote. That is a critical point because according to the regulations set down by the TPA, after introducing the implementing legislation the appropriate committees must complete their reviews and hold a final up-or-down vote within 90 days.

Many congressional watchers speculate that this final vote will not take place until after the U.S. elections in November. Some legislators fear trade agreements are too political to address prior to the election, while others may hope a new administration will place different priorities on the agreement’s portions that are more contentious. Unfortunately, any delays will mean U.S. wheat producers and their customers overseas must continue managing through inconsistencies in sanitary and phytosanitary standards and paying higher tariffs until the agreement is implemented.

Conceived as much more than just another free trade agreement, TPP was to be the platform for expanded trade in an entire region. In fact, within a few weeks after negotiators struck an agreement, as many as 12 additional countries contacted U.S. Trade Representative officials to test the membership water. However, no other country may apply for membership until after the U.S. Congress and the governments of the 11 other countries ratify the agreement. For this positive momentum to continue and ultimately help reach that goal of lifting economic opportunity in the region, moving as quickly as possible toward the Congressional vote on TPP is critical.