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September 2012 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Dean Kleckner: A Global Farmer Leader with Vision and Resolve

Sep 27, 2012

 By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa

 

"Is Dean Kleckner the most famous farmer in America?"

 

I thought about the question for a moment.

 

"No," I said. "He’s not the most famous farmer in America. He’s the most famous farmer in the world."

 

I know, I know: "Famous farmer" is an oxymoron. Although growing food is one of the most important jobs around, the work is done in near-anonymity.

 

Yet in the halls of power, Dean became known as the great champion of U.S.­­ agriculture. Last month, he stepped down as chairman of Truth about Trade & Technology--and we all owe him a tremendous debt for having devoted his life to American farming.

 

Dean grew up in northern Iowa, near the town of Rudd, working in the fields alongside his father. When he started out, all farming was organic--or "primitive," as Dean likes to joke. He still remembers the first time his family used commercial fertilizer: "The corn shot up faster, the fields grew greener, and there was more of everything," he wrote in a 2008 column. "We never looked back."

 

That’s for sure: When it came to farming, Dean always looked forward.

 

He also looked outward, becoming an advocate of ordinary farmers. For a decade, he headed the Iowa Farm Bureau.

 

That was when I first met him. I was a state delegate to a convention. We were debating some issue, and Dean had left the room for a few minutes. While he was gone, we voted to take a certain action. When Dean came back, he heard what we had done. Then he calmly explained why we were mistaken.

 

We knew he was right. We reversed our decision. He had turned us around 180 degrees. He was wise and clear-thinking.

 

Dean went on to become president of the American Farm Bureau, winning seven consecutive two-year terms.

 

This was when global leaders in agriculture came to know Dean. He represented the United States in world trade talks, making sure that American farmers gained access to new markets. Yet he always remembered that trade talks are a two-way street, and he took the time to understand the agricultural interests of other countries. Dean was successful because he’s such an excellent listener--the very opposite of the "ugly American" stereotype.

 

Dean may have traveled the world, but he never lost sight of where he came from. He continued to grow corn and soybeans and raise hogs, back near the town of Rudd. He still cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals and loves to eat at Cracker Barrel.

 

After he left the AFB, Dean joined Truth about Trade & Technology, an organization that I had helped form with a few fellow farmers. We really needed his help.

 

We had sensed the need for a farmer-led group that would seek to improve America’s ability to sell its goods and services across borders. We also wanted farmers in the United States and around the world to enjoy access to advanced technologies, including genetically modified crops.

 

We had a grand vision--but knew we needed broader expertise to implement it and make a difference.

 

That changed when Dean joined TATT. With the most respected voice in agriculture, he jump-started the organization--and turned it into a deliberative and influential promoter of everything from free-trade agreements to consumer acceptance of biotechnology.

 

Now Dean has stepped down as chairman, but it would be wrong to conclude that he has retired. Just last week, he wrote a column for TATT on the importance of Trade Promotion Authority as TATT’s Chairman Emeritus. I’m sure we’ll hear from him again soon.

 

In 2007, the board of TATT created the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, honoring a global farmer who has demonstrated "strong leadership, vision, and resolve in advancing the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity, and availability of agricultural products around the world." Next month, we’ll give it away for the sixth time.

 

We thought the award would be a great way to recognize a deserving recipient as well as show how much Dean has meant to farmers in the United States and abroad.

 

We created the Kleckner Award when Dean was out of the room. Nobody thought for a second to reverse the decision.

 

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa.  Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org

No TPA Means No TPP

Sep 20, 2012

 By Dean Kleckner:   Des Moines, Iowa

 

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney disagree over budgets, health care, and what to do about unrest in the Middle East. When they meet for their first presidential debate on October 3 in Denver, they’ll have a brand-new opportunity to highlight their many differences.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if they spent at least a few moments finding common ground? Voters are tired of gridlock in Washington and it would hearten them to see these ideological rivals describe areas of agreement.

 

I would suggest they start with international trade, which both men claim they want to expand. Specifically, the candidates should say that no matter who takes the oath of office in January, the next president must have Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

 

The United States simply can’t forge new free-trade agreements without it.

 

The idea behind TPA is simple: It lets the president’s team negotiate with other countries, find progressive consensus and make a deal, and then submit the proposed pacts to Congress for up-or-down votes.

 

TPA is a practical tool that allows our trade diplomats to pry open new markets for American-made goods and services, helping everyone from farmers and manufacturers to insurance agents and Hollywood moviemakers. The up-or-down vote is essential because it respects the authority of Congress to weigh in on pending agreements but also prevents individual legislators from trying to reopen trade talks after they’ve been completed. (They’ll say to "make improvements".)

 

In other words, it gives the president and his administration the genuine authority to negotiate.

 

Think of it this way: When you want to purchase a car, you visit an auto dealership and search for a sales representative. (Actually, the sales reps always seem to find you. That’s just how those guys are.)

 

Would you bother to negotiate with a sales rep that lacks the authority to sell vehicles? Or one who wants to continue bargaining even after you’ve come to terms and shaken hands? Of course not. It would waste your time.

 

That’s how other countries view TPA. If our president doesn’t have it, they won’t walk through the equivalent of America’s dealership door.

 

Last year, President Obama finally sent and Congress approved trade accords with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. We’re just starting to see the economic benefits. Yet these agreements were negotiated when George W. Bush was president, back when TPA was still in force. It expired in 2007, which means that President Obama hasn’t had this important tool for his entire term in office. Right now, he is the only president not to have enjoyed TPA for at least a portion of his presidency since Lyndon Baines Johnson--and LBJ didn’t have it because TPA had not yet been invented.

 

So it’s no coincidence that the current administration has yet to negotiate a single tariff-reducing trade pact.

 

President Obama means well--and he likes to talk up the tremendous potential of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an accord that would improve trade ties between the United States and several economic partners along the Pacific Rim. Without TPA, however, it won’t ever leave the drawing board. Here’s a motto to consider: No TPA, no TPP.

 

This alphabet-soup sloganeering may point to part of the problem. TPA just isn’t a great name for this device, though it’s arguably an improvement over "fast track negotiating authority," which was what everyone called it through the 1990s. Perhaps it needs rebranding once again. How about Free Trade Fair Vote?

 

Whatever the semantics, the next president should have TPA. Romney has called for it plainly. Obama hasn’t spoken as openly, though his administration has signaled that if the president is re-elected, he would like to have TPA in 2013.

 

So imagine the power of the moment, at the October 3 debate, if both candidates were to agree on the urgent need for TPA. Each man could promise that if defeated in November, he will try to sway the members of his party to support TPA for the victor.

 

The candidates will still disagree over many other details about how to create jobs and revive the economy--but in this gesture of magnanimity, they will have done the United States a great bipartisan service.

 

Dean Kleckner volunteers as Chairman Emeritus for Truth About Trade & Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org

An Open Letter To California Voters From An Iowa Farmer: Prop 37 Impacts Me Too

Sep 13, 2012

By Tim Burrack:  Arlington, Iowa

 

Dear Californian, 

I can’t vote on Proposition 37 this Election Day, but I’m watching it closely, all the way from my farm in Iowa. 

This ballot initiative isn’t just bad for California--it’s bad for America. 

Here’s the problem: Prop 37 is an extremist measure that will raise food prices without making food safer or consumers more knowledgeable. Worst of all, it will stifle innovation all over the United States.

The fundamental idea behind Prop 37 is that there’s something wrong with the kind of food I’ve raised and you’ve eaten for more than 15 years. This is a strange claim because there’s nothing unusual about my corn and soybeans. They’re just like the vast majority of the corn and soybeans planted and harvested in California and elsewhere: genetically modified to resist weeds and pests. 

Because these crops carry a natural resistance to weeds that steal moisture and insects that munch on roots and leaves, they grow bigger and healthier. This means more food and better food for everyone--and less dependence on herbicides and pesticides. 

American food security and the health of our environment depend on biotechnology. It allows us to grow more food on less land, which is the very definition of sustainable agriculture. 

The backers of Prop 37 just ignore this, but they do say that consumers should know if their food contains biotech ingredients. The irony is that consumers who feel a need to avoid biotechnology already can do so: They look for the organic label.

So the brand-new labels mandated by Prop 37 are pointless, except in the eyes of special-interest groups that want to manipulate consumer preferences, in a bid to drive grocery-store shoppers away from conventional food and toward organic varieties. As a Stanford University study showed last week, organic food is not healthier than other kinds--but it sure is more expensive.

There’s another profit motive at work behind Prop 37: trial lawyers. They’re chomping at the bit to sue food producers for petty violations of arcane rules.

Ten years ago, voters in Oregon faced a ballot referendum similar to Prop 37. They had the good sense to reject it, especially after learning that it would cost families hundreds of dollars in additional food costs each year. In our slow-growth economy, this is a price that few can afford to pay, especially low-income families and seniors who live on fixed incomes. 

Even Californians who don’t alter their eating habits will see their bills go up as food producers redesign packages and processors segregate food so that it satisfies the complicated requirements of a new bureaucracy. Consumers, of course, will pick up the tab for these changes.

The damaging effects of Prop 37 will reach well beyond California’s borders. The measure’s success would give biotechnology an unnecessary black eye--at a time when we must rely on biotechnology more than ever before. 

You’ve certainly heard about this year’s drought. It was awful: probably the worst I’ve seen in a lifetime of farming. Yet biotechnology is on the cusp of making great strides in drought resistance, allowing crops to grow even when they don’t receive much water. Farmers like me want and need access to those tools.  Seriously, consumers like you should want me to have those tools as well!

California is the most populous and a very important state in the country. It has a well deserved reputation for starting national trends. If its voters decide to pass Prop 37, they will send a powerful signal that public opinion is turning against agricultural technology, despite their clear benefits. Researchers will shift to other fields. Food producers will worry about new regulations, approved not for reasons of nutrition or safety, but because the schemes of special interests have triumphed.

Cut off from promising new technologies, farmers across the country will find themselves growing less than they should: That’s bad for California, bad for Iowa, and bad for America.

Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org

A Trade Agenda? (Or not)

Sep 06, 2012

 By John Reifsteck:  Champaign, Illinois

 

It’s a familiar bit of wisdom: Past performance predicts future performance. Employers use it when they hire workers, investors when they pick stocks, and farmers when they choose seeds. Parents even use it raising their children.

 

Does it also make sense in politics? With President Obama formally accepting the Democratic presidential nomination this week, voters will want to think it over. As they do, they should know that the old adage hasn’t always applied to President Obama.

 

As an Illinoisan, I’ve been a nonstop constituent of Obama for seven years, since he joined the U.S. Senate. I’ve kept track of him the whole time--especially on trade, which is so important to farmers.

 

Farmers depend on exports. In a typical year, about one-third of the corn we grow will ship to customers in other countries. Those exports benefit not only agriculture but our whole economy. We need presidents and legislators who will work to reduce trade barriers to American agriculture.

 

Before becoming president, Obama had a disappointing record on trade. As a United States Senator he voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, an important pact that has boosted U.S. exports to some of our nearest Latin American neighbors.

 

As a presidential candidate he did not merely oppose pending agreements, he threatened to withdraw from one that already existed: the North American Free Trade Agreement, a crucial economic partnership with Canada and Mexico.

 

If past performance predicts future performance, candidate Obama’s pre-presidential performance on trade should have led to his becoming a very protectionist president.

 

Then something happened once elected to the White House: President Obama assumed the burden of leadership. He discovered that the United States depends on free trade, and that the exchange of goods and services with people in other countries helps Americans. It boosts prosperity, creates jobs, and improves diplomatic relations.

 

"We need to export more of our goods because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America," he said in his 2010 State of the Union address. "If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores."

 

President Obama went on to support the passage of free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. They had been negotiated by the Bush administration, but languished as his administration held on to them and Congress refused to vote on them. With Obama’s support, however, they finally made it through last fall and became a reality. Now we’re trading more with each of these countries. The deal with South Korea is a truly big boon to American agriculture, especially for ranchers who produce beef.

 

President Obama also promised that the United States would double its exports in five years, by the end of 2014. Granted, the pledge began in the midst of a global economic slump, when our exports had sagged. Yet the goal was worthy, and we’re on track to meet it. Last year, for the first time ever, the value of American goods and services sold to foreign customers topped 1 trillion dollars.

 

The Obama administration is presently trying to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious effort to improve the flow of trade along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.

 

President Obama has missed important opportunities. He refused to demand a renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, which would improve his ability to bargain with other countries.  His administration has yet to finalize a single trade agreement on its own.

 

Yet, President Obama’s record is much better than what many of us had anticipated. His past rhetoric and performance on trade did not predict his future performance.

 

If elected to a second term will President Obama become a stronger advocate for trade and promote an aggressive agenda that will result in American jobs? Or will he turn into the protectionist President we feared?

 

Between now and Election Day, the president must explain where he wants to take us.

 

John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in western Champaign County Illinois.  He volunteers as a Board Member for Truth About Trade & Technology.   www.truthabouttrade.org

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