Plenty of trade action on several fronts

Farmers and ranchers are expressing their concerns about trade issues to the Donald Trump administration, while officials attempt to negotiate with leaders of several nations that have met up with U.S. disagreements on settling trade accords.

On April 22, a coalition of major farm groups—led by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and including the American Farm Bureau Federation as well as nearly every primary commodity group—sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, calling for the implementation of a U.S.-Japan trade agreement.

The coalition said such a deal will greatly benefit the U.S. food and agriculture industry while preventing significant losses to the sector.

“As the fourth largest market for U.S. agricultural products, improved access to Japan is imperative for the continued growth of the sector and the millions of American jobs it helps support,” the letter said.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. food and agriculture industry is increasingly disadvantaged by competing regional and bilateral agreements with Japan that have already been implemented, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the European Union-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.

“In recent weeks, Japan cut tariffs for the second time on agricultural imports from the European Union and CPTPP member countries. As a result, U.S. exporters of wheat, beef, pork, dairy, wine, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, and other products are facing collapse of their Japanese market share as these lucrative sales are handed over to their competitors.”

The groups told Lighthizer that an agreement with Japan must include market access provisions that at least equal the terms of the CPTPP and the EU-Japan EPA in the first stage of implementation, and where possible build upon those precedents.

“Further, the agreement must include an accelerated phase-in of tariff cuts to ensure the U.S. is not facing a disadvantage on tariff or TRQ quantity access compared to other countries. Non-tariff barriers, such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures, biotechnology, TRQ administration, and geographical indications, must also be addressed.

“On behalf of America’s farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses, we urge the administration to negotiate a bilateral agreement with Japan that restores meaningful access for U.S. food and agriculture and expands opportunities in this important market.”

Trump was set to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington April 26 and 27.

China trade war continues

In rallies across the country, Trump has said he is considering keeping some tariffs on China even if a deal is finally reached to end the trade war between the two countries.

That’s caused a group called Americans for Free Trade to publish a letter to Trump urging him to lift the various duties the administration has placed on Chinese goods. Groups like the American Bakers Association, CropLife America, National Confectioners Association, and The Fertilizer Institute, joined groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Power Tool Institute to seek “the full and immediate removal of all added tariffs when the deal is signed.”

The group wants the administration to prioritize five specific outcomes that are essential to the diverse industries, businesses and workers our coalition represents. First, any deal must fully eliminate tariffs. Secondly, any deal must truly address China’s unfair trading practices. Third, the administration must avoid any enforcement mechanism that would trigger future tariffs and result in long-term economic uncertainty. Fourth, American businesses deserve clarity on how the exemption process for the first two lists of tariffed products will be impacted by a U.S.-China agreement. Finally, consistent with established practice for trade agreements and other safeguards, and after completing a deal, the federal government must undertake a full economic assessment of the costs of tariffs for American businesses and consumers, particularly before drawing any conclusions about the role tariffs played in negotiations.

“Like you, we want a trade deal with China that achieves meaningful change in our trading relationship with China. Tariffs, however, have already proven to be the wrong way to accomplish this goal,” the AFFT letter said. “The economic harm we predicted has come to pass as American businesses and farmers across the country have suffered the consequences from the onslaught of tariffs. It will only worsen if your Administration chooses to retain or add punitive tariffs against China or other countries going forward.”

EU says no to ag talks

The European Union Council April 15 approved a mandate for the European Commission to exclude agriculture from trade talks with the U.S., but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and President Donald Trump kept up the pressure for agriculture to be included.

In a news release, the European Council said it had had approved a mandate for negotiations on “a trade agreement limited to the elimination of tariffs for industrial goods only, excluding agricultural products.”

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Grassley said in a statement that a deal without agriculture would have a hard time getting congressional approval.

“The U.S.-E.U. trade relationship is a significant one,” Grassley said in a news release. “The decisions made in any bilateral agreement between the U.S. and E.U. impact economies around the world. With so much at stake, it’s important to get it right.”

“Elimination of industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers only get us part of the way there, especially when we face major barriers to agricultural trade in the E.U. Agriculture is a significant piece of the global economy and it simply doesn’t make sense to leave it out.

“Any deal that eliminates tariffs will need to get congressional approval. Bipartisan members of the Senate and the House of Representatives have voiced their objections to a deal without agriculture, making it unlikely that any such deal would pass Congress.”

Speaking at a combined business roundtable and campaign event in Burnsville, Minnesota, Trump said, “We’re in massive trade negotiations, as you know, because our farmers haven’t been treated properly for many years…For 15 years, you can go back and it’s just a graph downward. Well, we’re changing that. You—wait until you see what’s going to happen.

“If you look at the European Union with the barriers they have to agricultural products and cars and so many other things. But the agricultural products—they barely take our agriculture products. And yet, they can sell Mercedes-Benz and they can sell anything they want in our country, including their farm products. And it’s not fair. And those days are changing rapidly. They understand it.

“We had, on average, a loss of $160 billion a year with the European nations. If you look at Europe and take a look at what’s going on with Europe and how badly we’ve been treated for so many years. And I talk to them and I say, ‘Fellas, it has to change. Has to change.’

“And, you know, I said, frankly, ‘Look, if it doesn’t change, we’re going to tariff all of your cars and everything else that comes in. You can’t treat our farmers that way. You can’t treat our people that way.’ And I think you’re going to be very happy. You’ll be very happy.

Trump devoted most of his presentation in Minnesota to non-agricultural business matters. Even with agriculture left out, France and Belgium said they would not support the negotiations, The New York Times reported.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].