Photographer: Karen Bleier/Getty Images
The financial health of American farmers depends on trade. In what remains the “breadbasket of the world,” U.S. farmers export half of all major commodities they grow, contributing to a projected trade surplus of $20 billion this year alone and supporting millions of direct and indirect jobs. At a time when American farm incomes have been rapidly declining, trade is what’s helping to keep farmers, ranchers and many rural communities afloat.
Not so long ago, we served in Washington D.C. when these realities were well understood. It was a time when bipartisan support for opening new markets to our farmers was assumed and expected. As globalization took hold, we understood that trade agreements were our only tool to ensure that American wheat, soy or beef could out-compete other countries’ products vying for the same markets. It was a consensus that delivered for millions of American farmers. Today, that consensus has faded.
American agricultural trade is facing risks not seen in a generation. Public attitudes toward trade agreements have shifted as protectionist sentiment has grown. Threats of tariffs on U.S. trading partners invite the specter of retaliation. Meanwhile, our competitors plot to assume the mantle of global supplier the U.S. has long occupied.