As former secretaries of Agriculture, we know firsthand the importance of international trade to America’s farm and ranch families, to our nation’s rural communities, and to the U.S. economy as a whole. There’s no other sector of the U.S. economy where the link between trade and prosperity is clearer than in agriculture.
Foreign sales account for almost a third of total U.S. farm income. For many commodities, the bulk of total production is now exported, with about 80 percent of U.S.-grown cotton, over two-thirds of U.S. tree nuts and about half of U.S. rice, soybeans and wheat destined for foreign markets. Not only do those international sales benefit the farmers who grow the products, they help support more than 1 million American jobs in both farming and related sectors such as food processing and transportation.
Population growth and rising incomes — particularly in the developing world — are creating significant new opportunities and U.S. farmers, ranchers and food processors are well positioned to capitalize on this growing global demand. But for them to do this, we first need to break down trade barriers so that our agriculture sector can compete on a level playing field. And we need trade agreements to make that happen.
Trade agreements are the most effective way to eliminate foreign tariffs, unscientific regulatory barriers, and bureaucratic administrative impediments to trade.
During our respective tenures at the helm of the Department of Agriculture, from 1995 to 2005, we were overseeing the implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Uruguay Round and NAFTA agreements, China’s accession to the WTO, and the negotiation of a number of bilateral free trade pacts. We also ensured that U.S. products were able to compete in countries that had started to negotiate preferential agreements that were excluding American products.
Thanks in part to these efforts, we saw average tariffs on U.S. exports fall and helped ensure that U.S. products were able to better compete in other countries. Harvesting those gains has been momentous for U.S. farming. New opportunities under these agreements are a key reason U.S. agriculture exports are at record levels, above $150 billion per year.
Despite the success U.S. farm exports have enjoyed over the past two decades, we still have more to do. The United States is now working to conclude negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will significantly reduce the barriers U.S. products face in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. If we don’t close the TPP deal, U.S. producers will be at a competitive disadvantage as Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and other countries aggressively negotiate trade agreements in the region.
Key to our ability to negotiate and implement market-opening agreements has been enactment of trade negotiating authority. This authority, now called trade promotion authority (TPA), ensures U.S. credibility to conclude the best deal possible at the negotiating table. TPA also ensures common negotiating objectives between the president and Congress, and a continuous consultation process prior to final Congressional approval or disapproval of a trade agreement.
That’s why we, together with all living former secretaries of Agriculture, recently signed an open letter urging Congress to reinstate Trade Promotion Authority to allow the president to effectively negotiate job-supporting trade agreements as other presidents have done.
With TPA, the United States will be able to pursue trade agreements that support high-paying U.S. jobs while helping America’s farmers and ranchers increase U.S. exports and compete in a highly aggressive globalized economy. TPA will signal to our TPP partners that Congress and the administration stand together on the high standards our negotiators are seeking.
Because of its power to grow our economy, Congress has granted Trade Promotion Authority to every U.S. president since Gerald Ford. It is time to do the same for President Obama.
Veneman served as Agriculture secretary for President George W. Bush. Glickman served as Agriculture secretary for President Clinton.