By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy

In 2006, the United States signed the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, making it the first U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) that did not fully eliminate tariffs on wheat. Instead, the FTA included a tariff rate quota (TRQ) for U.S. wheat, which is now set at 360,000 metric tons (MT) per year. Over the years, this TRQ has presented a challenge to U.S. wheat exports to Morocco. It is typically only briefly opened once a year, which makes it difficult for Moroccan customers to gain preferential tariff access to high quality U.S. wheat.

U.S. government officials have consistently raised this issue with their Moroccan counterparts, and this year the TRQ administration was improved to allow access to U.S. wheat exports multiple times per year. The first tender of the year filled because of a poor wheat harvest in Morocco in 2016, but Morocco only tenders for 90 percent of the tender at once because buyers can bid 10 percent over that amount in the tender. In October, Morocco agreed to issue a second tender for the remaining 30,000 MT of the TRQ. That tender was filled, and the wheat will arrive in Morocco in December. With the exception of last year and early this year, when Morocco had a poor wheat crop and needed to import more wheat, this is the first time in years that a significant quantity of U.S. wheat has gone in under the TRQ, and these efforts ensure that U.S. wheat will have improved access to the Moroccan market in the future.

Trade agreements do not automatically work perfectly, but this cooperative solution to a problem in the U.S.-Morocco FTA is an important example of the benefits of working within the FTA framework. Trade agreements are a vital tool for opening and expanding new markets and help reduce costs for international wheat buyers. They are especially important in the increasingly competitive global wheat market.


Recently, Vietnam’s government advised the USDA that it would lift restrictions on imported U.S. food grains and feed grains. This change helped open an opportunity for Vietnamese flour millers who recently bought a large volume of U.S. soft white (SW) wheat, the first substantial sale of U.S. wheat to the Vietnam market in several months.

On Dec. 1, 2016, Vietnam implemented a requirement that all shipments of U.S. wheat, corn and distillers dried grain solids (DDGS) be fumigated with a product that U.S. export elevators are generally unable to use in bulk shipments. Vietnam now allows treatment with a generally accepted fumigation product throughout the global grain trade, to enter the country. An official phytosanitary certification from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will also be required.

USW continued to provide trade service to Vietnamese flour millers after this restriction was implemented. For example, Vietnamese flour milling executives recently joined a team of millers visiting the United States to learn more about U.S. wheat quality and the supply chain.

“Several of our staff worked with the grain trade, U.S. government agencies and our customers to develop workable solutions to this restriction,” said USW Vice President of Overseas Mark Fowler. “We appreciate their work and the cooperation of the U.S. and Vietnamese governments. We look forward to more normal trade with these customers.”


Original article published on Oct. 12, 2017 by the American Farm Bureau Federation in collaboration with U.S. Wheat Associates.

Before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force on Jan. 1, 1994, state intervention and import tariffs held back U.S. wheat exports from the Mexican market. NAFTA ended both, and the newly opened market helped the Mexican flour milling and wheat foods industries to flourish, along with U.S. wheat imports (see chart).

USW represents the interests of U.S. wheat farmers in international markets. As it does with all U.S. wheat importing customers, USW focuses on helping Mexico’s sophisticated buyers, millers and food processors solve problems or increase their business opportunities utilizing specific U.S. wheat classes as ingredients in specific types of wheat foods. This effort, supported by wheat farmers and the partnership with the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, has fostered a productive relationship that has endured for decades through many challenges.

Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Official USDA Estimates.

Mexico Leads All U.S. Wheat Importers

Today, Mexico is one of the largest U.S. wheat buyers in the world, importing just under 3.0 MMT on average going back many years. Mexico’s U.S. wheat imports typically only fall just short of the volume Japan imports. Not in marketing year 2016/17 (June to May), however, when Mexico’s flour millers imported more than 3.3 MMT of U.S. wheat, which is more than any other country. That volume is up 39 percent over marketing year 2015/16.

Breaking down their purchases by class, flour millers in Mexico generate strong demand for U.S. HRW wheat. The association representing Mexican flour millers says a rising number of industrial bakeries, along with traditional artisanal bakeries, account for about 70 percent of the country’s wheat consumption. That puts HRW producers in a good position to meet that demand. In 2015/16, Mexico was the leading HRW importer and buyers took advantage of favorable prices and the high quality of the 2016/17 HRW crop to import 2.0 MMT. That is 79 percent more HRW imports compared to 2015/16 and again led buyers of that class. Being closer to HRW production and having a highly functioning ability to import a large share of HRW directly via rail from the Plains states — duty free under NAFTA — is an advantage for Mexico’s buyers.

In addition, Mexico is home to Bimbo, the world’s largest baked goods company, and an increasing number of other cookie and cracker companies. The functional properties of U.S. soft red winter wheat (SRW) is well suited to the production of cookies, crackers and pastries, and serves as an excellent blending wheat. Millers supplying this growing market imported an average of 1.2 MMT of SRW between 2011/12 and 2015/16. With imports from the Gulf of more than 1.0 MMT of SRW in 2016/17, Mexico was the year’s top buyer of SRW again. USW and state wheat commissions from the PNW are also helping demonstrate how millers and bakers can reduce input costs by using U.S. SW as a blending wheat for specialty flour products.

The successful story of how U.S. wheat farmers and their customers in Mexico have worked together in a mutually beneficial way under NAFTA and, for now, U.S. wheat continues to flow to our customers in Mexico. Total exports sales to Mexico returned more than $633 million to wheat farmers across the Plains and east of the Mississippi River in 2016/17.

The data for this map is based on Mexico’s market ranking for primary class of wheat grown in that state in the 2015/16 marketing year. Most wheat states’ farmers rely on Mexico as their number one market.

Source: Small Grains Summary and Export Sales, USDA

Increasing Competition

With U.S. wheat farmers facing financial hurdles, open access to the Mexican market is needed now more than ever. A prosperous Mexico is crucial for U.S. wheat farmers. But these savvy Mexican milling and baking sector customers have shown they can also adapt to other wheat supplies.

After a price shock in 2007/08, Mexico lifted its non-NAFTA wheat import tariff and wheat from other origins began to trickle in. From the first single boat carrying French wheat in 2010/11, non-NAFTA imports became a quarter of all Mexico’s wheat imports by 2015/16. The cost of U.S. wheat has a freight advantage over competitors, but if Mexico encourages purchasing from other origins or a new NAFTA agreement results in impediments to U.S. wheat imports, it has plenty of supply alternatives that are ultimately harmful to U.S. wheat growers.

Source: Global Trade Atlas

New Negotiations Can Build on NAFTA’s Success

Wheat trade with Mexico under NAFTA is already open and fair, but improvements to the agreement are possible. The three NAFTA parties agreed to some improvements as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that could be incorporated into a NAFTA update. TPP would have updated rules on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which have created major trade problems in some markets. U.S.-initiated trade restrictions often backfire on U.S. agricultural exports, so the wheat industry supports maintaining open markets for all parties.

Renegotiations could also enable full reciprocity for cross-border wheat trade with Canada. Canada allows tariff-free access to wheat from the United States and certain other foreign sources. However, a Canadian law requires that imported wheat, even wheat of the highest quality, must be segregated from most Canadian wheat. It is automatically given the lowest grade established by regulation and therefore receives the lowest possible price.

By contrast, Canadian producers are free to market their wheat in the United States through normal marketing channels. When graded at a U.S. elevator, Canadian wheat is treated the same as U.S.-origin wheat and is assigned a grade based on objective quality criteria, meaning that unlike U.S. wheat going north, it retains its value when it crosses the border.

“U.S. farmers should be able to deliver their wheat to a Canadian elevator and not automatically receive the lowest grade because it was grown on our side of the border,” said Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy. “This concept is needed for U.S. wheat farmers who live near the Canadian border, is supported by the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, and is already Canada’s legal obligation under existing trade agreements.”

The map above illustrates U.S. land that would be most affected by an open border with Canada for wheat via truck. The blue rings represent land south of the border that is within 25, 50 and 100 miles away from a Canadian elevator.

Do No Harm, Please

The U.S. wheat industry welcomes the opportunity for improving the framework for cross border wheat trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, but would strongly oppose changes that might limit the current NAFTA’s benefits for wheat farmers and their customers, particularly in the Mexican food processing industries.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important our Mexican customers are to U.S. wheat farmers,” said Jason Scott, a wheat farmer from Easton, Md., and USW Past Chairman. “There is nothing wrong with modernizing a 23-year-old agreement, but that must be done in a way that benefits the food and agriculture sectors in both countries.”


By Elizabeth Westendorf, Assistant Director of Policy

It’s no secret that the U.S. wheat industry and its customers rely heavily on international trade rules to keep markets open and wheat moving. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the prime example of this, particularly in its limits on tariffs and subsidies that have done so much to push towards a level playing field in global trade. But along with the WTO are other institutions that play a critical role in trade.

As traditional barriers to trade have decreased due to the WTO and other trade agreements, many countries have adapted and found new ways to protect industries, limit imports, or retaliate on trade issues (and clearly there are still many issues with traditional barriers!). Technical barriers – in particular sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers that purportedly address health, safety, and environmental problems – are a big challenge in trade today and likely to be a growing concern in the future.

The WTO SPS Agreement identifies two additional international treaties that are relevant to wheat trade: the Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of standards, guidelines and practices that aim to protect consumer health while also ensuring fair practices in international trade, and the IPPC is the international standard setting body for plant health.

The most visible standards in wheat are probably the maximum levels for pesticide residues (MRLs), mycotoxins, and heavy metals set by Codex, but there are other influential standards for things like phytosanitary certificates and pest risk assessments adopted by the IPPC.

The SPS Agreement requires that any measures that a country adopts that are more trade-limiting than the standards developed by Codex and IPPC be scientifically justified, taking into account relevant factors like exposure and risk. Countries have every right to limit imports of unsafe products, whether they’re unsafe to their consumers or the environment, as long as they have gone through the process of providing sound justification. The WTO provides a clearing house of announcement for regulatory changes proposed by member countries, giving all others an opportunity to comment and object if needed. USW staff routinely monitor these announcements for any potential new restrictions on wheat trade.

Divergence from an international SPS measure is not necessarily a violation of trade commitments, but it can be a sign that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. The U.S. government has personnel dedicated to fixing these sorts of technical barriers and ensuring that standard setting bodies rely on the best science available and avoid acting as unnecessary impediments to trade.

The highly technical nature of SPS measures means that these measures are often difficult to implement properly and address if something is wrong. Following these standards or an alternative science- and risk-based process is extremely important for trade in wheat and wheat products to avoid market disruptions. The evolving nature of trade also means that these institutions need to pursue robust agendas while maintaining their scientific integrity so that they do not become pawns of agendas, but remain independent arbiters of good trade practices in SPS measures.


By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma is simply stunning. So many of our Caribbean neighbors are facing so much destruction, including in Cuba where the full fury of Irma raked the northern coastline as a Category 5 hurricane that killed at least 10 people and flooded central Havana.

As I read about the damage in Cuba, I could not help thinking about other hurricanes and their impact on our relationship with the island nation.

In 1998, Hurricane Lily hit Cuba hard, too, putting flour mills offline. The Kansas Wheat Commission responded with a generous offer to donate 20 MT of flour to help Cuban people in need. USW helped coordinate the donation, but it had to be made to Caritas, a CARE affiliate non-governmental organization relief organization, not directly to Cuba, because the U.S. government’s embargo prevented them from sending it directly to Cuba.

We believe that the donation did help open some hearts and minds, and the Trade Sanctions Reform Act (TSRA) of 2001 opened exports of wheat and other U.S. agricultural products to Cuba. Yet, the travel and financing restrictions that remained continued to compound the regulatory difficulties of trading with Cuba.

When another hurricane, Michelle, struck Cuba later in 2001, the U.S. government offered aid. The Cuban government refused that offer, but the gesture helped encourage Alimport, Cuba’s food buying agency, to import its first bulk load of U.S. HRW wheat. According to former USW President Alan Tracy, “Cuba’s flour millers and bakers loved that wheat.”

More and more HRW was imported until the annual volume reached almost 500,000 MT, a substantial portion of Cuba’s annual imports of about 800,000 MT.

In 2005, it was not a hurricane, but rather new regulations implemented by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that interrupted this trade. The changes forced Cuba to obtain and present letters of credit from a third-party, foreign bank, and U.S. exporters had to receive payment only from a third-party bank, rather than through direct payment from Alimport. It was an excessive and unnecessary administrative burden that increased Cuba’s cost of buying U.S. wheat. OFAC also modified the definition of “cash in advance” that required payment before a shipment left a U.S. port rather than before the title changed hands at the shipment’s destination. This rule was unique to our exports to Cuba and removed the ability of Alimport officials to inspect U.S. origin cargo before payment.

Alimport slowed and ultimately stopped importing U.S. HRW wheat completely by marketing year 2011/12.

There was renewed hope when the Obama Administration announced its intention to renew and, eventually, re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease some travel restrictions. Several organizations, including USW, formed the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba (USACC) to work together toward more open trade. However, the OFAC rules were never reversed and Cuba continued to import all its wheat from Canada and the EU — no doubt at higher freight rates and likely at higher relative FOB costs.

And, sadly, just hours before Irma struck Cuba, the United States officially renewed its embargo for another year, as required under TSRA.

Cuba’s proximity, as well as historical and cultural ties, should make it a natural trading partner for the United States. The U.S. wheat industry supports easing travel restrictions, permanently overturning the 2005 regulatory changes and increasing access to credit and USDA commercial loan programs. However, the larger political implications of the embargo and its negative effects will likely preclude effective competition by U.S. wheat exporters even if these other changes are implemented.

“Aside from hurting the Cuban people, the embargo has only strengthened the Castro brothers’ grip on power and stymied any change for the better,” Tracy said.

Soon after the most recent hurricane, our organization and other USACC member organizations sent a letter of support and concern to the Cuban people through Cuba’s ambassador. We wrote: “It is at these times when humanity stands together both in fear of the destructive forces of nature that impact us all, and in solidarity in the determination to help one another recover.”

In that spirit, we stand with U.S. wheat farmers to support ending the Cuban embargo entirely.


By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

On Aug. 16, 2017, the United States, Mexico and Canada began negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The first round concluded on Aug. 20. It was historic, in the sense that this is the first time the United States has attempted to renegotiate all parts of an existing trade agreement.

The Mexican market is extremely important to U.S. wheat farmers, and duty-free access under NAFTA to U.S. wheat is extremely important to Mexican flour millers. As the top export destination in marketing year 2016/17, Mexico accounted for 12 percent of all U.S. wheat exports. This growth stems without doubt from a successful trade agreement that has provided positive economic opportunity for a growing Mexican middle class that is able to spend more money on products made from U.S. wheat.

It is too early to say what kind of outcome to expect, but U.S. agriculture has been emphatic in its message to “do no harm” in these negotiations to the agricultural industry and its customers. That was reflected in the opening remarks of Ambassador Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, when he acknowledged the importance of NAFTA to U.S. farmers.

However, he also said the agreement had fundamentally failed many parts of the U.S. economy and required major changes. As the negotiations move forward, we will find out what changes will be proposed and acceptable to all three parties — and what tradeoffs will be required.

One change that would benefit wheat farmers and the wheat trade, particularly in northern border states, is a commitment from Canada to treat U.S. wheat farmers equitably when delivering across the border to a Canadian elevator. The current system is a legacy of the old Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, and there is broad recognition that it should be updated to allow reciprocal treatment for U.S. and Canadian farmers.

As these negotiations continue, USW, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and other agricultural organizations will be vigilant in pursuing the interests of the North American food and agriculture supply chains.



By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

It was a decade ago this month that the United States completed its last successful free trade agreement negotiation. Under the Bush Administration, the United States and South Korea signed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) on June 30, 2007. However, it would be almost five more years before it entered into force following minor modifications by the Obama Administration.

Now the Trump Administration has hinted that it, too, may try to make its mark on the U.S.-Korea trade relationship, citing statistics that the U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea has doubled since KORUS implementation in 2012.

History shows that with bilateral FTAs there are always issues that may block some trade, and balancing all bilateral trade relationships is impossible. For example, KORUS maintained major barriers to U.S. rice exports and the United States maintained significant barriers on Korean automotive exports. Reducing the overall trade deficit is a major policy goal of the United States, so renegotiating free trade agreements one by one is not the best approach.

The only way to reduce overall deficits is to promote savings and decrease consumption by U.S. citizens. The most effective way to do that is recession, as evidenced by 2009, the lowest U.S. trade deficit in the past 10 years and the heart of the “Great Recession.” New restrictions on trade are not likely to affect the trade deficit, except that they could lead to or exacerbate economic recession, an outcome previous U.S. administrations have wisely avoided.

Renegotiating agreements risks disrupting established supply chains and endangering trade. Our organization has worked for many decades to build a preference for U.S. wheat in South Korea. While there were limited policy barriers to U.S. wheat exports before KORUS, the agreement provides strong assurances about the continued viability of the trade relationship between U.S. wheat farmers and Korean customers. This is an extremely valuable trade relationship for both sides and it would be unfortunate for both partners if it does not remain open and fair.

USW will continue to advocate for trade policy that is based on openness to trade, with individual actors being free to choose with whom to buy and sell. That has always been the best policy framework for U.S. wheat farmers and their customers, and KORUS as it exists today for wheat trade is an important part of that system.


By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

Every year, the USW Wheat Letter features an article on the annual release of the National Trade Estimate (NTE) report by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). While the issues it quantifies do not change rapidly, the latest NTE shows the extent of the problems facing the Trump Administration, which has made trade enforcement a cornerstone of its economic policy.

The NTE is the U.S. government’s most comprehensive report on trade barriers. It covers more than 40 countries or country groupings. In just under 500 pages, it clearly shows that these barriers pose a major challenge for U.S. exporters and investors. Most of the issues are policies that violate rules of a U.S. trade agreement or the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Considering trade enforcement, the NTE may understate the challenge. For the wheat industry alone there are several barriers not listed in this massive report. If USTR decided to pursue every long-standing issue facing the United States through dispute settlement, it would stretch its resources far past the breaking point. Unfortunately, new problems seem to arise faster than it takes governments to fix old problems.

This underscores the need for countries to commit strongly to a rules-based trading system. Trade disputes are one way to address the problems, but even a country with considerable resources for trade disputes like the United States, which has sued or been sued in nearly half of all WTO disputes, can barely begin to address outstanding issues through disputes alone.

However, strategic enforcement is important to maintaining the effectiveness of international trade rules. There are economic benefits from fixing specific trade barriers, but just as vital is the deterrence effect on countries that would consider implementing new barriers. If we must litigate every issue, the system could collapse.

Last year, USTR took a big step in challenging non-compliant domestic support programs in China — a growing problem for at least a decade. The NTE mentions similar problems in India, Turkey and Brazil and the hope is that the China cases lead to serious reforms to subsidies in these countries as well. USW and USTR need to stay vigilant to help reverse the trend of increasing WTO-violating subsidies and ensure that countries consider their trade commitments before implementing new policies.

Every country, including the United States, has unique internal pressures that may divert them from trade commitments at the margins. The NTE is an important way to demonstrate how those pressures affect U.S. industries, but without effective enforcement and negotiated solutions, it is just a very long list.

As an industry stakeholder, USW provided input on its key trade barriers through comments submitted in October 2016. Read those comments here. The full 2017 NTE report is posted online here.


By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have taken a major step toward making trade procedures more efficient and less costly for importers and exporters.  On Feb. 22, WTO announced that its new Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) entered into force. So far 112 of 164 member countries have ratified the agreement, which meets the two-thirds majority required for implementation.

TFA is the first multilateral agreement reached by WTO members since the organization’s founding in 1995. The World Economic Forum estimates that $1.6 trillion in additional annual global trade could result from this agreement. Overall, the WTO estimates a 14.5 percent reduction in trade costs through TFA implementation, while the average applied tariff is less than 10 percent.

The WTO traditionally dealt with tariffs and discriminatory measures at borders, but it was mostly silent on a major impediment to trade – inefficient trade procedures that can often be worse than tariffs in terms of their opacity and cost.

The purpose of TFA, as its name suggests, is to facilitate the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders. Red tape, delays and other regulatory measures can be a significant cost in today’s fast-paced supply chains. Demurrage can be very expensive and the risk of delay or rejection can inflate exporter bids in certain markets.

Some of the key TFA provisions will apply to all WTO member governments once the agreement is fully implemented and can help reduce the port costs of wheat trade. Under TFA, member governments must:

  • Publish all fees, laws, and regulations in an easily accessible manner;
  • Provide the right to appeal any administrative decision issued by customs;
  • Allow for additional testing in the event of an adverse first test;
  • Make transparent all fees and charges connected with imports and exports ;
  • Allow for release of goods prior to final determination of duties, taxes, fees, or other charges;
  • Coordinate border agencies to improve clearance and simplify procedures;
  • Review formalities and documentation requirements to expedite clearance periodically;
  • Encourage use of a single window to avoid having to interact with multiple agencies to clear imports;
  • Return or allow re-consignment of goods rejected for sanitary, phytosanitary, or technical reasons.

Not everything in TFA applies to all countries at the same time. “Developing” and “Least Developed Countries” as defined by the WTO are allowed some flexibility to customize their implementation process.

Still, wheat buyers in all WTO member countries should be aware that their governments have certain obligations under the TFA. It is important to ensure that each country complies with its TFA obligations to avoid major trade issues that may escalate later on.

The WTO has had a difficult time reaching new agreements that benefit world trade. TFA is a reminder that it can still be done and provides hope that the WTO will become a more vigorous institution in the future.


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.