Headlines on the trade front this week have direct bearing on the U.S. wheat industry’s desire to reaffirm our trade relationship with long-standing customers in Japan and Mexico, and to renew our relationship with customers in China. For now, at least, the news is positive.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer this week told members of Congress that the Trump Administration hopes to “wrap up” an agricultural trade agreement with Japan “later this year.” That is good news for flour millers in Japan, who do not want to continue paying incremental effective tariffs for U.S. soft white (SW), hard red spring (HRS) and hard red winter (HRW) relative to Canadian and Australian wheat under the new TPP-11 agreement. Repairing this potential breach with Japan is essential for wheat farmers who, with their partnership with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service have invested countless resources for more than 60 years to serve the demanding Japanese flour and wheat foods industries.
Amb. Lighthizer also reached out to members of Congress who have expressed concerns about the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement on Trade (USMCA). In a description of his remarks, Agri-Pulse reported that the USTR “bent over backwards to assure Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee that he was hearing and addressing their concerns, both about enforcing labor rules in Mexico and about whether the trade pact would hamstring efforts to lower pharmaceutical prices.” At the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) 2019 Mexico Wheat Trade Conference early this month, our colleagues and our customers in Mexico identified that supporting the USMCA will be our shared focus. They took another big step today with news that Mexico’s Senate on Wednesday passed the USMCA, making it the first country to ratify the new trade pact. Mexico’s imports are the foundation of farm family incomes throughout the southern and central U.S. Plains. Losing it because of trade policies beyond their control is unthinkable.
On June 18, President Trump raised expectations for some positive trade outcome from his planned meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G-20 summit. He said he had a “long talk” with Pres. Xi and, according to news reports, said “China very much wants to discuss the future and so do we.” In this case, “we” definitely includes U.S. wheat farmers who have been all but shut out of exporting wheat to China following the imposition of retaliatory tariffs in March 2018. Before then, Chinese flour millers and their baking customers were demanding more high-quality U.S. wheat to blend with domestic wheat. Now, China has replaced our wheat with competing supplies of Canadian spring wheat.
As Amb. Lighthizer said during his congressional testimony on negotiations with Japan, “I think we are making headway and we’re in a situation where we if we don’t make headway quickly, people will lose market share and never get those customers back.”
USW continues to support the need to enforce commitments made in multi- and bilateral trade agreements and, given this week’s upbeat news, look forward to a speedy resolution of these challenging situations.