A Message from WFBF President Jim Holte
I’ve found plenty to shake my head at this election season. Among them is how free trade has unified opponents (and their vocal supporters) from both sides of the political aisle.
It wasn’t always this way. Both political parties once agreed that eliminating tariffs led to affordable goods and new jobs for Americans in exporting industries.
Lately, you would think that TPP were scarlet letters. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is high on the American Farm Bureau’s legislative priority list. Amid agriculture’s current economic downturn, TPP is estimated to generate $4.4 billion in profits.
The current ‘lame duck’ period between now and January appears to be the TPP’s last stand. Given their statements on the campaign stump, TPP’s window of opportunity appears to slam shut with the swearing in of Trump.
Are free trade’s prospects as bad as it seems? I’ve been left to wonder if TPP’s loud opponents who get the attention of television cameras are reflective of the average American who goes to work each day.
The Washington Post reported that “there is little evidence of a broad reaction against free trade. Americans are deeply conflicted about the issue, as shown in two recent polls that came to opposite conclusions about public opinion on free trade.”
Americans are resistant to foreign ownership of U.S. factories. One poll found that 68 percent said they’d prefer an American-owned factory in their town to a Chinese-owned one offering twice as many jobs.
Another poll found that although 58 percent of Americans believed that free trade benefits the national economy, less than half of them thought it helped their own finances. There are many who think free trade leads to fewer (and lower paying) jobs. I think that in their quest to cling to jobs of the past, they are ignoring the ones of the future. The backlash against trade is knotted up in the hostile view that some Americans have toward corporations and their government leaders.
I will admit the importance of trade to the U.S. economy might sometimes be oversold, but I’m not sure that can be said for agriculture. The historically high prices American farmers recently received for their crops, milk and livestock were largely due to trade.
TPP will reduce trade barriers for American agriculture. Canada would open its market by reducing restrictions on U.S. dairy, poultry and eggs. Japan has agreed to slash or eliminate tariffs on U.S. beef, cheese and ice cream. Malaysia’s tariffs on beef and dairy products would be eliminated immediately, so would Vietnam’s tariffs of 20 percent on cheese, milk powder and whey. Vietnam’s staggering 34 percent tariff on U.S. beef would be eliminated in 3-8 years.
American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that annual net farm income will increase by $4.4 billion, driven by an increase of direct U.S. agricultural exports of $5.3 billion per year upon full implementation of the TPP agreement.
Whether or not the U.S. Congress ratifies the TPP, the other 11 TPP nations will continue negotiating and implementing bilateral agreements with each other. Doing nothing with the TPP will not result in the status quo. Instead, net exports and market share will decline in key markets.
It’s not too late to contact your members of the U.S. House and Senate with a letter or email. Better yet, attend a town hall meeting or write your own op-ed. Tell them that without access to foreign markets, Wisconsin agriculture looks different. Eliminate one of every four rows of corn. Sell one out of every five cows.
As for what everyone else thinks about trade, I have one last observation.
A poll found that Americans’ views on imports differ depending on the industry. The same people who like the idea of imported electronics want to ‘protect’ American agriculture. Thanks folks, but it doesn’t work that way.
They have it backwards. We don’t need the type of protection that leads to retaliatory tariffs against what we grow best. Given the chance, American farmers can compete with anyone.
Instead of throwing up walls to the other 96 percent of the planet, the TPP opens up a big door for American agriculture.
For more on this subject, visit tpp.fb.org.
Jim Holte was elected president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation in 2012. He was elected to the WFBF Board of Directors in 1995. He represents District 9 which consists of the Barron, Chippewa, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer and St. Croix county Farm Bureaus as well as the Superior Shores County Farm Bureau (made up of Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties). Jim was elected to the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors in January of 2015 as a representative of the Midwest region. Jim and grows corn soybeans and alfalfa on 460 acres of land south of Elk Mound. He also raises beef steers. He and his wife, Gayle, have two children and five grandchildren.