By Susan Crowell / firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON — Throughout the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents’ trip to Washington D.C., March 12-14, legislators and administrators hinted that a final trade deal with China was just around the corner, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was also in the home stretch.
“I think in a few weeks, we might have some pretty good news,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, speaking to the Ohio farm leaders March 14. “I think the Chinese want it now.”
Portman credited President Donald Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a native of Ashtabula, Ohio, with holding a tough stance to make sure China not only says it will buy more U.S. products like soybeans, but that they will change their market structure and intellectual property rights.
China’s ceremonial legislature passed a measure March 14 seeking to prevent Chinese officials from forcing U.S. and other foreign companies to turn over proprietary technology, a key sticking point in the trade fight between the two countries.
In 2018, the U.S. moved $140 billion worth of ag products through exports, according to Ken Isley, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, who spoke to a combined crowd from the farm bureaus in Ohio, Missouri and Nebraska March 13.
Of that, Ohio exports account for approximately $3.6 billion, Isley said. Conversely, the U.S. imported $120 billion in 2017, a figure that rose slightly in 2018.
The Trump appointee said current trade is “not always fair or reciprocal, and that’s what’s driving these negotiations.”
Isley said negotiators have been addressing a long-term, structural change that will benefit of ag and increase access to China’s markets.
“If we were granted equal access, agriculture would’ve been granted many more sales than the $24 billion that we had in 2017.”
The FAS administrator said a trade deal with China is down to the final details.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you I think the path is coming to an end.”
And when that trade deal is approved, Isley said more than just soybean growers should be happy — although 50 percent of all soybean shipments were exported to China, and “resumption of that will be huge.”
The USDA official expects other ag commodities to benefit in volume and structural access to China as well.
U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, who hosted an afternoon forum with the Ohio Farm Bureau delegation, said he’s positive a deal with China is imminent.
“I think China’s economy needs a trade deal more than we need a trade deal,” Gibbs said. “Their economy is not doing well over there.”
The new NAFTA
Gibbs also said the top priority for Congress should be to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, adding the trade agreement is “a win-win for everybody.”
The two neighboring countries were the No. 1 and 2 trading partners for the U.S. in 2018.
The president has said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement implementing legislation will be sent to Congress “very shortly,” but that was back in mid-February.
And in a hint of a brewing battle, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is among lawmakers urging the Trump administration to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs on products brought in from Canada and Mexico. Grassley said it’s a first step to getting the USMCA through Congress, although the steel and aluminum tariff issues are not covered in the agreement.
In his comments to the Farm Bureau, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said the administration’s trade policies have been attacking U.S. allies, and hurting Americans, like the farmers hurt by tariffs on China.
“We need to convince the president that a trade policy has got to lift agriculture up, not play farmers against steelworkers,” something Brown said the U.S. did when renegotiating NAFTA.
In a visit to U.S. Rep Bill Johnson, Columbiana County Farm Bureau President Danielle Burch asked Johnson for continued support of the USMCA.
“We need trade outlets, and we need them now,” Burch said. “You know our income has gone down 50 percent on average farms just since 2013.”
“We need places for our products to go.”
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