By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy
U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) prioritizes trade policies that support reducing the cost of getting wheat from U.S. farmers to their customers around the world. A time-tested method for doing that is through trade negotiations and agreements. USW will be looking for a more forward-looking trade negotiating agenda from the United States in the coming year, while holding our ground when we believe certain actions might raise the costs of wheat trade.
The biggest item on the trade policy agenda remains the negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). There are some notable improvements that can be made to the agreement through a modernization process, but the absolute priority for USW and most of U.S. agriculture is to prevent dissolution of the agreement – a potentially devastating blow to the U.S. farm sector and potentially to their customers in Mexico and Canada.
The agreement with South Korea (KORUS) is also on the agenda, but it is expected that the scope will be much more limited than the NAFTA negotiations. Hopefully the modification process for KORUS will help stave off a concerning push by some to withdraw entirely.
A serious problem to date is the lack of new bilateral trade agreement negotiations with potential trade agreement partners. KORUS was the last completed trade agreement the United States negotiated, and it was first signed in 2007. The United States continues to fall behind in trade negotiations with competitors in the European Union, Canada and elsewhere. Emphasizing this challenge will be an important priority of USW in 2018.
At the World Trade Organization (WTO), there will be continued fallout from the United States’ successful efforts to prevent a severe weakening of WTO rules in agriculture, which had the predictable but unfortunate effect of shutting down virtually all positive negotiations in this forum. In our view, this was a necessary development if the WTO can ever return to being a dynamic forum for trade negotiations. There will also be progress on the dispute settlement cases against some of China’s policies restricting wheat trade.
If nothing else, 2018 is shaping up to be another roller coaster year for trade policy. In addition to weighing in on the high-profile negotiations discussed above, USW will continue to work on a number of issues with individual markets on behalf of wheat farmers and buyers.