Senators press USTR on ag trade policy

Agriculture trade dominated Thursday’s full U.S. Senate Finance Committee Hearing on the President’s 2023 trade policy agenda.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testified the administration is writing a new story on trade to restore fairness.  

“Farmers, ranchers, fishers, and food manufacturers are also key to our trade agenda,” she said.  “We have secured real wins over the past few years and U.S. agricultural exports have reached a record $202 billion in 2022.”

She touted increased access for many commodities including beef, rice, wheat, corn, and pork, and current enforcement efforts.

“We are pressing Canada to ensure that U.S. dairy farmers are treated fairly, finally, and we are urging Mexico to address our concerns with the energy sector and with agricultural biotechnology,” she said.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley wanted answers about the administration’s next steps with Mexico’s ban on biotech corn, pushing for a formal dispute settlement to be filed on April 7, 30 days after the filing of technical consultations.

“You are absolutely right, and we have those tools for a reason, and I assure you, it is not my intention to allow this to go on indefinitely,” she affirmed.

John Thune of South Dakota asked for a free trade agreement to be forged with the United Kingdom and to be more ambitious with the Indo-Pacific Framework.

“If the U.S. doesn’t meaningfully engage in the Indo-Pacific, I’m concerned that South Dakota farmers and ranchers, and all American businesses simply won’t be able to compete on a level playing field,” he stressed.

Tai countered by saying with the traditional approach to free trade agreements has led to winners and losers, and while good for ag producers, not all sectors have seen the benefits.

Trade issues for potatoes, ethanol, apples, cotton, and others were also examined by lawmakers.

  • 46% of all fresh fruit and vegetables we ate in 2022 were imported and the USDA says it will be 53% this year. That’s dramatic. The USMCA gave us free trade not fair trade when the seasonality clause for fresh fruits and vegetables was specifically eliminated during negotiations.
    Ambassador Tai is correct, not all sectors have seen the benefits. The perishable and seasonal specialty crop growers have been losing equity and are quitting growing the products we like to eat. We cannot compete with the low wages Mexico pays their workers. This year Michigan growers in the H2A non-immigrant visa program will be paying $21 to workers and Mexico pays $1.25. Another way to look at is is we have around $7 per package produced in labor and Mexico has $.42.
    Every time US producers go to the US International Trade Commission for relief, none is given. US trade remedies work for non-perishable goods, not perishable and seasonal.
    We urge Ambassador Tai to work with the USDA to help our specialty crop growers.

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