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Farmers, Ranchers Stress Tariff Concerns to Subcommittee

July 19, 2018

The House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), held a hearing this week entitled “The Effects of Tariffs on U.S. Agriculture and Rural Communities.” This hearing was an opportunity for lawmakers to hear directly from farmers and ranchers across the country about the impact recent trade actions from the Administration have had on their businesses.

Chairman Reichert said at the start of the hearing:

I am encouraging the President to push forward with our negotiations with our other international trading partners, including with China, to find a solution that evens the playing field for American workers, manufacturers, service providers, and farmers, while at the same time making sure that farmers don’t become collateral damage.  

We also cannot lose sight of the cost of inaction when it comes to new markets. When our trading partners move forward and make agreements without us, our farmers, workers, and businesses fall behind.”    

Throughout the hearing, Members and witnesses stressed the need for fair and modernized trade agreements, loss in market share because of tariffs, and growing uncertainty within the agriculture community, which is already vulnerable.

Pursuing Bilateral Free Trade Agreements and Modernizing Existing Agreements

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) asked the witnesses:

“Do you have any recommendations for this Committee of other countries that we could make bilateral agreements with knowing that this Administration would like to do additional bilateral agreements?”

Michelle Erickson-Jones, a cattle and grain owner from Montana, told Rep. Nunes:

“The U.S. wheat industry has long sought out a bilateral trade agreement with Japan. They are our most valuable customer for our wheat exports and customer for other agricultural industries such as beef. We would also really seek out any bilateral [agreement] that the Administration is willing to pursue.”

Rep. Nunes added:

“I would like to see us pursue a lot of the Asian countries: Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, would all be good. Also, potentially the U.K. depending on what happens with their withdrawal from the European Union.”

Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) said that it is imperative that we finalize a modernized NAFTA agreement soon:

“Let’s update NAFTA, let’s get as many of these trade concerns to an end, let’s get this resolved so we can move forward and hopefully see more prosperity for American agriculture.”

Difficulty Regaining Lost Customers

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) asked how hard it is to regain market share that could be lost due to tariffs:

“When you talk about loss of market share and how hard it is to get that market share back…how do you capture that share back?”

Kevin Paap, a corn and soybean farmer from Minnesota, said:

“Trade is all about relationships. … We would urge to anybody and everybody that is listening how important it is that we maintain those relationships because once we lose that market it is really tough to get it back.”

Growing Uncertainty

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) asked about fears farmers may be having about being able to pass their farms down to the next generation:

“That uncertainty that our farmers are facing from these tariffs isn’t just hindering their ability to provide for their family but it’s hurting the broader community, projects being put on hold, and it’s hurting our economy on a broader perspective. … Do you think that these tariffs will hinder future generations of farmers from a long-term perspective and make it more difficult for the farm to be handed down?”

Mr. Paap responded:

What we need, what that safety net is, is trade to continue. As we have young farmers and ranchers wanting to get in – it’s hard to get into agriculture even as an existing farm family – farmers and ranchers are all about sustainability. But the most sustainability in agriculture with farm families is with that generational sustainability. … We really look at trade as not only that ability to survive this next year, but to the next generation to survive as well.”

Russell Boening, a dairy farmer from Texas, added:

“We’re multigenerational as well. … Long term this is how we’ve progressed, this is how we’ve gone forward… [We] have to have those trade agreements.”

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) stressed the need for an all-hands-on-deck effort to solve our trade disputes and alleviate this uncertainty:

“Our job is to tell the story for why we need a safety net. If we’re going to fight for better trade agreements, we need the help of the Administration, the help of [the U.S. Department of Agriculture], and the help of Congress to make sure that our farmers and ranchers in this country are able to continue to provide the food supply for this country and for the world and do what they do best.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) echoed this, saying:

We should be working with our allies – Canada, the E.U., and Mexico – to implement a more targeted approach that will both address China’s unfair trade practices, and help restrain retaliation, providing our fishermen, farmers, and workers with a level of certainty, and helping our communities and your communities return to economic prosperity.”

Scott VanderWal, a farmer from South Dakota, said that uncertainty doesn’t just affect the farms – it has consequences on the entire supply chain and will be especially detrimental to rural areas:

“We’ve got a decreasing population in our rural areas already. If we lose any more population in the state in these rural areas, not only does it make the young farmers and ranchers leave, or the retiring or about to retire people…it also takes out the people who supply those farmers and ranchers. The feed store, the fertilizer people, those that supply the things that we need to raise the products that we do. It has a tremendously long tail.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) told multiple stories of farmers she’s heard from in northern Indiana who are being hurt by tariffs and are concerned about the future. She went on to say:

“Indiana is the fifth largest exporter in the country and this matters so much to the majority of the farms in Indiana that are family owned farms. … They’re nervous, they’re nervous that the long-term gain may be much longer than what they thought and they can’t ride this through.”

Chairman Reichert closed the hearing by promising the witnesses his support to keep fighting for farmers and ranchers to work with the Administration to enact sound trade policy:

“Our responsibility is to increase that conversation between the Administration and the Members that represent our constituency. … We will continue to fight, both parties will continue to fight, because we want to see you succeed. We want to help people who do stuff, that’s our job.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about the hearing.