I’ve spent almost my entire life connected to Oregon agriculture in some way. From growing up on a 300-acre beef and hog operation, to studying agriculture at Oregon State University, to working for the Oregon Department of Agriculture for more than 20 years.
That lifetime of experience has taught me that international trade is absolutely vital to our state’s farmers.
Structured trade agreements that eliminate barriers to our exports have long been the difference-maker on whether a farming operation can grow, hire and expand. Trade agreements open new markets, reduce costs in existing markets and encourage farms to innovate. They create opportunities for Oregon farmers, ranchers and fishers to sell to the 95 percent of consumers who live beyond our nation’s borders.
In the next few months, our state’s congressional delegation will have a big decision to make about our trading relationship with Canada and Mexico, Oregon’s closest and most important trading partners. At stake is the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been updated, improved and renamed as the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement.
At the table
Regardless of commodity or region, our state’s farmers know how important NAFTA has been. Canada was Oregon’s second-largest agricultural trade partner in 2018, with exports totaling about $3.2 billion. That’s a 35% increase from 2017. In Oregon, nearly 8% of our state’s workforce depends on NAFTA.
However, NAFTA is outdated and insufficient for the modern agricultural economy. It needs to be updated to reflect agriculture and supply chains in the modern, digital age. That is exactly what the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would do.
Without a formalized agreement between the United States and Canada, our farmers are faced with an uncertain future. Oregon’s agriculture industry grows and harvests more than $5 billion of some 250 distinct commodities, but a lot of that depends on stable trading relationships. In fact, 80% of everything Oregon grows leaves the state, and half of that is exported around the world.
Dollars and sense
Stabilizing trade between the United States and our neighbors should not be a partisan issue. The new trade agreement would provide protections and security to business owners and consumers alike. Both political parties need to put their differences aside and come together to approve the agreement to protect American farming communities and the related food companies that provide jobs in our urban communities.
This is a critical time for our trade-dependent state. When we look across the globe, the United States is being left behind by competitors who are increasingly cutting preferential deals with one another. Those deals reflect the realities of 21st-century trade in goods and services. Those deals also mean that Oregon and U.S. agriculture exports are less competitive than exports from Brazil, the European Union or Australia, whose products don’t carry hefty tariffs.
We cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. The new trade deal will be a boon not only to agricultural exports, but it also will restore certainty and stability at a time when we need it most.
There may be no congressional delegation in the country more responsible for the final fate of this deal than Oregon’s: from Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who hold key positions on the Finance and Ways and Means committees that oversee trade, to House members on both sides of the aisle who understand how trade supports jobs in our state. Our lawmakers will be key to whether the deal passes or fails.
We ask that Oregon’s representatives from both parties in Congress work together to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement as soon as possible. We are counting on our elected officials to champion the people they represent, people like you and me.
Gary Roth is executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission.