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By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Policy Specialist

Two weeks ago, government officials from Canada and the United States met for the biannual Consultative Committee on Agriculture — a committee designed to facilitate cross border trade flows and cooperation. In preparation for this meeting, USW sent a letter to the USDA highlighting the need for Canada to correct its discriminatory treatment of foreign grain. Both countries have a strong commitment to cross-border collaboration and open trade, but Canada’s protectionist measures go against these principles and deny U.S. wheat farmers access to a market that is right next door.

While Canada is one of the United States’ largest trading partners, USW continues to have concerns about the closed nature of its bulk grain handling system, which will not allow U.S. wheat to receive an official grade commensurate with its quality. Though Canada privatized the Canadian Wheat Board in 2012, it has not completely liberalized its wheat industry. Instead of letting U.S. wheat into its bulk grain handling system, Canada downgrades all foreign wheat to the lowest grade, feed wheat. U.S. wheat is of comparable quality to Canadian wheat, so this downgrading of all foreign wheat is a blatantly protectionist action. It denies U.S. farmers access to the market across the border, access that Canadian farmers have if they choose to bring their wheat to U.S. elevators during harvest. This lack of access means that when there is a price premium at Canadian elevators near the border, as we saw in the late summer and fall of 2015, U.S. farmers cannot take advantage of those higher prices.

USW hopes that Canada’s new government will commit to reform its Grains Act and allow foreign grain to receive the same treatment as domestic. The United States repealed Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat in December 2015 as Canada requested, but Canada’s discriminatory wheat treatment does much of the same thing as COOL. Now that the United States has domestically addressed its treatment of Canadian livestock, it seems only fair that Canada fix its treatment of U.S. wheat. This will ensure a healthy continuation of the long-term partnership between the two countries. Governments should never be responsible for segregation that market forces could manage more efficiently. USW is happy to see our Canadian industry counterparts calling for reform alongside us, and we look forward to Canada continuing to break down barriers to the free trade of 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.

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By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy

While achieving progress in multilateral trade negotiations among World Trade Organization (WTO) members is often frustrating, USW sees some steps in the right direction in the recent agreement at the WTO Nairobi Ministerial meeting held in mid-December — despite some setbacks.

USW is particularly pleased to see the elimination of export subsidies, which rank high among the most trade-distorting forms of support. The agreement immediately eliminates such subsidies for developed countries and calls for a phase-out for developing countries. Though the world’s largest traditional user of agricultural export subsidies – the European Union – has moved away from the subsidies, agreeing to eliminate them is no small matter.

USW welcomes the recognition in Nairobi that the United States can keep offering food aid and development programs without change, which underpins this country’s leadership in the world. Wheat produced by U.S. farmers is a cornerstone grain for food aid that is affordable, nutritious and fits monetization projects that encourage in-country development.

The Nairobi agreement also addressed export credit and financing rules that reflect reforms the United States has already made. USW believes there should be no further restrictions on the GSM-102 program, which is a reliable, practical financial tool used by several U.S. wheat importing countries.

Despite these gains, USW is disappointed that the Ministerial reauthorized the use of transportation, marketing and processing subsidies for agricultural products for developing countries. This exception could provide cover to bad actors who have violated past agreements to the detriment of producers around the world. USW will continue working with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to ensure developing country members do not abuse this exception.

The Ministerial reflected differing views on future WTO negotiation priorities. At least the agreement recognizes that work would continue on Doha’s remaining issues in agricultural trade. This includes public stockholding programs, which India uses to subsidize its farmers, and a “special safeguard mechanism,” which would allow countries to “snap-back” tariffs on products in the face of rising imports. The continuation of these negotiations is especially concerning given some countries’ insistence on using these negotiations to roll back progress at the WTO.

USW congratulates and thanks our negotiators at USTR for their hard work. We look forward to sharing the U.S. wheat farmer’s voice in future negotiations. We must also ensure that WTO members hold firm on past agreements, allow no more backpedaling on domestic subsidies and return their focus to the original goal: liberalizing trade policies to promote economic growth for all participants.