WASHINGTON — Ohio’s two U.S. senators say trade is good for agriculture, but they’re divided over a policy that would give the president and his administration more authority to negotiate trade.
U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown both addressed Ohio Farm Bureau Federation members during the organization’s county presidents’ trip to Washington, D.C., March 18-20.
In his January State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama requested Congress grant him “trade promotion authority” — which would allow the U.S. to continue its negotiations with other countries, but in a way that allows the president to make final-deal offers.
Those offers are later reviewed by Congress, but would not be subject to the lengthy, and sometimes deal-breaking, process of amendments.
Portman said the United States needs to be more competitive in securing new trade agreements.
“America has been sitting on the sidelines while other countries have been negotiating trade agreements,” the Republican said. “That opens up markets for their products and we get left out.”
Trade promotion authority, or TPA, is viewed by other countries as a “signal of serious Congressional interest, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio’s exports reached $4.4 billion in 2013, ranking 10th in the nation for exports of ag products.
Portman said about one of every three acres of Ohio crops this year will be exported.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown said that in past major trade deals, the United States has also seen a decline in manufacturing. He said he’s already told the president he will vote against TPA, and that he’s working with his colleagues to oppose the measure as well.
“There’s no doubt that trade has been good for agriculture, but I think previous trade deals have not been good for our state because they have done such damage to manufacturing,” Brown, a Democrat, said.
“While I understand it’s a mixed bag all the way around, we’ve got to make sure that a trade deal is as good for the steel mill in Youngstown as it is the farmer in Darke County.”
Portman said he agrees with Democrats that any trade agreements should be made with full consideration of the effects. But he said new trade agreements can still be formed, while keeping the playing field level and the trade fair.
“I agree with them (Democrats) on that,” he said. “You shouldn’t sell in our market below the price of the product. You shouldn’t sell it by subsidizing.”
Brown said agriculture can continue its trading with laws that are already in effect, and said he’s excited about new opportunities with Cuba.
He said past trade agreements have also cost the country jobs.
“The evidence is in. We’ve lost millions and millions of jobs because of these trade agreements,” Brown said.
But agriculture supports jobs as well — about one in seven in Ohio, making it the state’s largest industry.
According to USDA, Ohio’s ag exports help boost farm prices and income, while supporting about 33,300 jobs both on the farm and in related industries.
Nationwide, U.S. food and agriculture exports reached a record $150 billion in 2014, supporting more than one million American jobs.
There are two ongoing trade negotiations that would benefit from TPA — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The TPP includes countries like Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico and Chile.
Both negotiations include the reduction and elimination of certain tariffs, and greater opportunity for U.S. farm products.
Working with Japan
In a visit to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, Japanese ambassadors told the Farm Bureau their country is already engaged in trade negotiations with the United States, and that TPA is not a necessity.
However, having TPA would “be extremely helpful to move the (Trans-Pacific Partnership) negotiations,” said Naritoshi Takayama, agriculture counselor to the embassy.
Takayama said his country produces only about 40 percent of its food needs and imports the rest.
According to information he shared, Japan is the No. 1 U.S. market for beef, pork, corn and wheat, and is a major importer of other ag products, as well.
Japan is Ohio’s third largest trading partner, and in 2013, ag exports to Japan reached a record $262 million.
A trade promotion authority bill has not yet been introduced, but Farm Bureau said it could happen sometime after the Easter recess.
Both senators also received the Friend of Ohio Farm Bureau Award for their support of agriculture and ag issues. The awards were presented to them during the trip.
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