Although the news on trade negotiations might sound grim, Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, told Montana Farm Bureau members at their summer conference in Fairmont Hot Springs that negotiations are part of the process and urged farmers and ranchers to speak up and make their voices heard about how trade tariffs impact them.
“Trade negotiations are very complex. They include buying and selling, being a reliable partner and fixing what’s needs to be fixed. Farmers need certainty and open markets to make ends meet,” Hofmann said.
She pointed out that although North American Free Trade Agreement had been good for many ag commodities, it needed to be modernized. “NAFTA needs new rules. It makes sense to negotiate,” she said. “For example, when NAFTA was signed into law in 1993, we didn’t have the e-commerce like we have today. We’ve been in a good trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, but there are some things that need to be resolved.” (The U.S shipped $17.9 billion of ag products to Mexico and $20.5 billion to Canada in 2016.)
During her talk “2018 Trade Insights,” Hofmann shared that Canada, China and Japan are top U.S. trade partners with Japan, Belgium, Mexico and Taiwan being the next tier.
She explained that due to the recent steel tariff, prices are expected to rise on farm supplies and equipment, from fence posts to tractors. “However, there are ways to get an exemption from price increases in agriculture if you are being impacted. The intention of using the steel tariffs was not to hurt ag producers, so there are ways that farmers, ranchers and others in the ag industry can be exempt from the price increases.”
As for the latest retaliation lists, including pork, cranberries, potatoes, orange juice and even Levi jeans, there is a reason for those commodities to be selected. “Our trade partners have become tricky. If you look at the retaliation list, they are trying to hit the commodities in ag voter districts, such as retaliating against Kentucky bourbon in Senator Mitch McConnell’s state,” said Hofmann.
She noted that Montana has had a long and good relationship with many of its trade partners, which bodes well for Montana beef and wheat. “We’ve gotten through difficult times in trade before, but Montanans got smarter and opened new markets after the Asian financial crisis. We have decades of working on a trade relationship with the Chinese. Montana exported $129 million in products to China in 2017. We have a great product with Montana beef and we need to compete. We’re here for the long term.”
Hofmann told more than 200 farmers and ranchers attending the conference that the best thing they can do is talk to their Congressmen and to the Trump Administration about how tariffs directly hurt them on their farms.
“It could take a while but we need to keep trading. I believe improved trade negotiations will get done and hope nothing will derail the process. The U.S. is talking with the negotiators right now, so don’t miss your opportunity to speak up,” she concluded.