State’s farms, businesses need trade deal

Opening foreign markets to American agricultural exports has provided strong returns to rural communities. When the high-quality products grown and made in rural Washington have a chance to compete on a global scale, every Washingtonian benefits.

Expanded exports mean more sales for farmers and higher prices for farm commodities. Increased farm production means more rural jobs, on and off the farm. More exports and more agriculture-related jobs increase disposable income and lead to more business on Main Street.

Washington state’s agricultural exports alone have nearly doubled from 2009 to 2013, totaling $4.5 billion in 2013. Trade deals support jobs and increase incomes in rural communities. In 2013, every dollar of agricultural exports stimulated another $1.22 in business activity and agricultural exports generally make up more than 20 percent of farm incomes. U.S. trade expansion has added more than $13,000 to the average American household’s income, and in the state of Washington agricultural exports supported about 34,000 jobs in 2013.

New trade deals that open foreign markets have made this success possible, but, as with any market, the number of competitive suppliers grows by the day. A trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the president is negotiating would create opportunities for export expansion in 11 countries, all in the Asia-Pacific region. With the TPP, the United States is saying that American farmers and Washington farmers deserve an opportunity to compete in foreign markets.

The tried and true pathway to successful trade agreements is Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). It allows the president and his team of negotiators to present a united front for our country in these intense negotiations. Through TPA, Congress identifies its negotiating objectives and empowers the president to get the best deal possible for American farmers and American consumers. And ultimately, it gives Congress the final say on whether or not the deal is acceptable. TPA received strong bipartisan support with a successful vote in the House, led by members like Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who understand the importance of strong, high-standard trade agreements that level the playing field for workers and U.S. businesses.

We look forward to Congress passing Trade Adjustment Assistance, a necessary program that provides job training and other benefits to help workers compete in a globalized economy. The program will ensure that we continue to provide access to job training and other benefits to an average of about 100,000 workers each year.

TPP has the potential to create new opportunities for small farmers and rural communities on an international scale. It can also renegotiate past trade agreements like NAFTA, allowing Washington’s dairy farmers to gain meaningful market access in countries like Canada for the first time. But without TPA, many of those opportunities will disappear. Especially in a state like Washington, with high agricultural export value and 75 port districts, those opportunities are essential.

Hungry consumers lie just beyond our borders and can mean money in the pockets of rural farmers and small business owners in America. Just look at the recent trade deals with Korea, Panama and Colombia, which allowed exports of fresh and processed fruits to jump by $136 million from 2011 to 2014 in those markets. U.S. dairy exports to those three countries have almost doubled over the same time horizon. Those kinds of economic transactions create enormous economic benefits for farmers and businesses related to farming — such as in food processing, cold storage, and transportation. The possibilities and opportunities for rural communities are endless.

In Washington, increased trade means more than money from the opening of foreign markets for key Washington exports like dairy products, raspberries, apples, sweet cherries, and concord grapes; it means protection of family farms, small businesses, and rural values. We look forward to Congress providing trade promotion authority so the president can negotiate trade deals that give American farmers and workers increased access to global markets.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

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