We started planting corn this week on our Illinois farm. It is always exciting to begin a new season. A lot of people depend on the U.S. farmer; not only our own citizens, but we export almost 30% of what we produce, feeding people all over the world.
In the last 20 years, we have entered into a whole series of free trade agreements. The value of a free trade agreement is that the countries involved agree to reduce their trade barriers – tariffs come down. Non-tariff barriers are eliminated. This opens the door for even more ag exports.
Perhaps the most successful and favorable agreement is the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. In his first term, President Obama was able to complete agreements with South Korea and Panama which President Bush negotiated.
Now, he is pushing to complete the Trans Pacific Partnership. As I speak, he is traveling to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines, meeting with their leaders. This effort will be difficult. Democrats in the House and Senate are not cheering him on. Labor unions are against free trade. There will be no agreement unless passed by the Congress and signed by the President.
Reality is that the President, at this point, does not have a green light from the Congress to complete an agreement. Congress needs to pass so-called "fast track," which specifies that once a trade agreement is negotiated the Congress will vote it up or down with no amendments. The no amendment rule is the key. If amendments were accepted, we never would be able to complete an agreement. What country would be willing to negotiate an agreement with us only to have our Congress jump on it and make a lot of changes. Accept or reject is the only way.
President Obama has an uphill lift to get this bill completed given objections from his own party. The countries that we are negotiating with are fully aware that the President doesn’t have the legislation he needs to get the job done.
I would not expect any meaningful progress until after the elections this fall. We are still in a stand-off with Japan insisting on special treatment for their agriculture. Completing an agreement will not be easy, but at least we are trying.