As I send this week’s column, I am getting ready to board a flight to the NAFTA negotiations in Montreal to advocate for the trade agreement and share its success stories for Nebraska agriculture.
Representing the country’s top-producing agriculture district, I am pleased to serve on the bipartisan congressional delegation attending the latest round of NAFTA talks. I view it as a great responsibility to bring Nebraska’s voice to the table in discussions with negotiators, government officials, and business leaders.
Canada and Mexico are Nebraska agriculture’s top customers, both representing billion-dollar markets for farmers and ranchers. In total, NAFTA accounts for 45 percent of Nebraska’s ag exports.
As the Nebraska Farm Bureau outlined in their December 2017 report on NAFTA: “Mexico and Canada were the third and fifth-largest customers of Nebraska beef in 2016. Mexico was the top customer for Nebraska corn, and the second-largest customer for Nebraska soybeans and wheat. Mexico and Canada were the second and fifth-largest importers respectively for distillers dried grains from Nebraska, and Canada was the top market for Nebraska ethanol.”
Maintaining the market access ag producers have achieved under NAFTA is vital. President Trump has said he wants to make the U.S. a stronger negotiator, which includes modernizing NAFTA after nearly 25 years. There are areas where the agreement could be updated, but throughout the negotiations I have been focused on making the case to do no harm to the ag economy. Pulling the rug out from under farmers and ranchers would harm all Americans.
We also need to bring a swift resolution to these negotiations. The longer this period of uncertainty and disruption lasts, the more we allow our economic competitors to take a greater share of the market.
In Ways and Means Committee meetings and hearings this past year with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, I shared Nebraskans’ concerns about the impacts of NAFTA negotiations on agriculture. Our committee also had a productive meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, where we talked about the need to keep strong trade ties between our two countries.
While working to strengthen our current trade agreements, we also should be pursuing new opportunities to open markets for producers. This is why I have introduced a resolution in the House urging the establishment of a trade agreement with Japan.
Last summer, Japan raised its tariff on U.S. frozen beef from 38.5 percent to 50 percent. U.S. producers were already at a competitive disadvantage with countries such as Australia, which had negotiated its own bilateral agreement with Japan and significantly lowered Japan’s tariffs on its exports. Given the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is even more important for us to focus on leveling the playing field for U.S. producers in this region.
Considering the many economic challenges producers are already facing, our country must be careful not to take action which would cause further harm. A healthy U.S. ag economy is beneficial to people around the world. In Montreal, I will share Nebraska’s story and strongly advocate for maintaining the competitive position ag producers have achieved under NAFTA.