Eighteen U.S. Senators, including Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) are firing back at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking him to “conduct a robust economic analysis to evaluate how any changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would affect changes to the nation’s crop and livestock sectors.” The letter follows Ross’ earlier comment that potential of damage to the U.S. ag sector by a withdrawal from NAFTA is an “empty threat.” Ross earlier this month accused agriculture of complicating the NAFTA negotiations saying, ““As one special interest group, say agriculture, for example, gets nervous, they start screaming and yelling publicly.” He said that reaction “complicates the environment” and “makes the negotiations harder.”
The comment was met with concern by many ag groups in Washington.
“There was a collective eye roll among the agricultural community here in Washington, DC, and also a lot of concern that the Secretary of Commerce, one of the key players in the overall trade discussions of this administration, is basically calling us a bunch of whiners and criers,” Colin Woodall of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association told AgriTalk Radio’s Mike Adams. “That’s worrisome, because we know what trade means for our industry. We know what a detriment it would be if we lose, not only NAFTA, but also possibly the South Korean Agreement. And for that to not be recognized by the Secretary of Commerce is a big problem.”
“The agriculture industry does not want to see momentum hindered especially at a time when net farm income has declined by approximately 50 percent over the past four years,” the letter from a bipartisan group of Senators states. “It is imperative that before any changes are made to NAFTA, or any other free trade agreement, that economic analysis that illustrates the impact on the full supply chain of the industries involved be shared.”
The letter was signed by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rob Portman (R-OH), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Luther Strange (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-ND).
The letter reads:
Dear Secretary Ross,
As Senators representing states with significant agricultural economies, we write to you today to underscore the vital role that agriculture plays throughout our home states and across America. Given your recent comments regarding agriculture and international trade, we find it essential that Congress’ voice be heard.
The U.S. is the world’s top exporter of food and agricultural products and is an important economic driver that stimulates prosperity and jobs throughout rural America. According to USDA, every $1 in agricultural exports generates an additional $1.27 in economic activity, and every $1 billion in farm exports supports 8,000 jobs. In fact, the data shows the benefits of agricultural trade align with many of the Administration’s goals and priorities – supports U.S. jobs, encourages U.S. investment, and fosters economic growth within the U.S.
The agriculture industry does not want to see momentum hindered especially at a time when net farm income has declined by approximately 50 percent over the past four years. It is imperative that before any changes are made to NAFTA, or any other free trade agreement, that economic analysis that illustrates the impact on the full supply chain of the industries involved be shared. As such, we request an economic analysis that examines and evaluates the impacts to crop and livestock sectors as a result of any change to NAFTA.
With 95 percent of consumers residing outside of the U.S., farmers and ranchers must have access to export markets to sell their high-quality product. Free trade agreements have allowed the U.S. agriculture industry to establish itself as a trusted supplier. International markets have taken years to build, and it is imperative that no steps be taken to jeopardize these gains. We must continue to move the global presence of U.S. agricultural products forward, not backward.
As the Administration works to strengthen current trade agreements and negotiate new agreements, we ask that you support the important role that agriculture plays in the nation’s economy. We look forward to working with you to ensure a strong marketplace for our farmers and ranchers.