San Francisco Chronicle: Secretary Sonny Perdue: Why Trump alternative to NAFTA is good for California farmers

Secretary Sonny Perdue: Why Trump alternative to NAFTA is good for California farmers
San Francisco Chronicle
By Secretary Sonny Perdue
July 8, 2019

California is the agriculture cornucopia of America, where the industry supports nearly 240,000 jobs and creates over $29 billion in value annually. I have visited California six times in just over two years as secretary of agriculture and have seen firsthand the diverse agriculture operations California has to offer. California’s farmers produce so much food with great efficiency that you are able to be net exporters — feeding our country and the world. Trade is agriculture’s bread and butter and President Trump is fighting for new and better trade deals for America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers. The president has won a better deal for America in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

From the salad bowl of Salinas, to the dairies across the state, to the abundant citrus and tree nut and table grape harvest of the San Joaquin, California leads the nation in production of over 45 agricultural commodities. The variety of soils and climates across the state provide ideal conditions for such diverse and fruitful production. Ongoing advances in technology and access to export infrastructure have supported the rise of the U.S. in becoming a superpower among our counterparts in the world marketplace.

The incredible, expansive network of farms and farm families in California would not have prospered over the years without the existence of trade. California’s farmers feed America and the world. America’s free trade agreements help to facilitate your exports and no relationship has been more essential than the one among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada — 20% of California’s agricultural exports go to our neighbors.

USMCA improves virtually every component of the old NAFTA, and California’s agriculture industry stands to gain significantly. Like any negotiation, we were hopeful we could get additional concessions through the new agreement, but we can definitively say this deal was a step forward, not backward. Since the inception of NAFTA 25 years ago, agricultural trade between our three countries has boomed — U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico increased approximately 300% and our imports increased almost 500%, benefiting producers and consumers on both sides of our borders.

Let me give you some data on California’s agricultural output. Over the past 10 years under NAFTA, we have seen a 37% increase in sales of agricultural commodities in California from $36.4 billion to over $50 billion. This is mainly due to the astounding growth in the fruit and nut sector, where sales increased from $11.1 billion to $22 billion, a 100% increase. The almond industry has seen a dramatic rise in total acres increasing from 825,000 acres to 1,390,000 acres, a 68% jump. Also, demand for California’s wines led to a 19% boost in grape acres while producers added nearly 114,000 acres. Overall, California saw net cash farm income increase by 60% to over $18 billion over the 10-year period.

USMCA benefits California’s entire agricultural industry. By ensuring better market access and advancing science-based rules with our top trading partners, USMCA is a big win. After restricting access to all our dairy imports for years, USMCA cracks open Canada’s highly protected milk market, providing U.S. dairy producers greater access than what was negotiated with past deals. USMCA also eliminates Canada’s unfair Class 7 milk pricing scheme that allows Canada to undersell U.S. milk products in Canada — leveling the playing field for our dairy producers.

California’s wine industry stands to benefit with USMCA by removing technical barriers to trade and eliminating measures discriminating against the sale of American wine and distilled spirits in British Columbia grocery stores and wine shops.

For the first time, trading rules specifically address agricultural biotechnology to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies. Poultry and egg producers have new access to Canada. USMCA updates rules of origin for processed fruits to ensure preferences benefit U.S. producers. While improving the flow of trade, the new agreement strengthens science-based sanitary and phytosanitary measures to protect human, animal, and plant health.

On my first day as secretary, President Trump promised he’d fight for better deals for American farmers — USMCA is proof of that. Our farmers, ranchers, and producers have an abundance of the highest quality products they want to sell around the globe. President Trump is laying the foundation for a stronger farm economy through USMCA and other free and fair trade deals. When President Trump mentioned the possibility of withdrawing from NAFTA, the universal hue and cry from agriculture was “do no harm.” Not only has he done that, he negotiated a better agreement on almost every front.

Sonny Perdue is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

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