By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
Earlier this week, Americans celebrated the original Brexit—the Declaration of Independence, written and signed in 1776.
More than five years would pass before General Washington won his decisive victory at Yorktown, and two more before a peace treaty ended the American Revolution.
We should remember this timeline as we think about Britain’s vote on June 23 to leave the European Union: Years will go by before we even begin to understand the ramifications.
The modern media has conditioned us to believe that change must move at a furious pace. So the day after voters approved Brexit, markets fell and pundits panicked. Then markets recovered and pundits did their best to look thoughtful. Today, our global economy looks more or less as it did before all of the excitement began.
Here’s what we can say for certain about Brexit: It’s not the end of the world. It merely adds new confusion into a confused world.
At a certain level, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. The big decisions remain in the hands of the British, with respect to how they turn this non-binding referendum into concrete action, how they redefine their political and economic ties to Europe, and how they approach the rest of us.
On this final point, the United States should seek to help—and farmers like me may be able to support these efforts by reaching out with new opportunities for trade and technology access.
A few weeks before Brexit, President Obama visited the United Kingdom and warned that a vote to leave the EU would weaken relations with the United States, putting Britain “at the back of the queue” for future trade agreements.
This was an empty threat. Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials already have contradicted it, stressing the importance of the “special relationship” between our countries and even suggesting that the United States may negotiate a trade deal with the UK while continuing its ongoing talks with the EU, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The Wall Street Journal, which had editorialized against Brexit, has proposed that the United States, Canada, and Mexico move the UK to the front of the queue and invite it to join the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Forget geography: If the Big 12 athletic conference can have 10 members, then why can’t a nation off the coast of Europe join a North American agreement? We could even keep calling it NAFTA: the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, though of course that would shift the emphasis away from Mexico, perhaps unfairly.
My larger concern about expanding NAFTA, however, involves the current politics of trade in the United States. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has all but promised to withdraw the United States from NAFTA. Hillary Clinton hasn’t gone quite that far, but she also refuses to say a kind word about free trade and why it is important to all of that we are able to move goods and services across borders smoothly.
Farmers and others may have to devote themselves to a defense of NAFTA rather than a campaign to grow it. Even so, we should continue to search for ways to overcome these political challenges and improve the flow of goods and services between the United States and the UK.
Brexit also may represent good news for agricultural technology. Although the British share many of the EU’s prejudices against genetically modified crops and food, they’ve also shown themselves to be more open to innovation. Perhaps this will lead to greater acceptance of GMOs. At the very least, less meddling from regulators in Brussels creates new opportunities for British farmers on everything from biotechnology to crop protection.
As the years go by and the consequences of Brexit become clearer, let’s keep looking back to our country’s founding documents. In the Declaration of Independence, the colonists listed their grievances against King George, including this one: “cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.” Perhaps the UK’s independence-minded Brexit vote will bring us closer together on trade and technology.
The patriot in me loves this potential result.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member for the Global Farmer Network where this column originates.
This week’s column first appeared at The Hill as Brexit could bring United States and UK closer on trade on July 8.