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What’s Good For Agriculture is Good for America

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture

As chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, I am firmly committed to working on a trade policy that reflects our position as the top producer of food and fiber for the world. This is policy that is in equal parts good for American farmers and ranchers, good for the overall U.S. economy and good for consumers throughout the world. It is also policy that will make America and the world a safer and more secure place.

On Feb. 4, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman discussed the status of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with me and my fellow Agriculture Committee members. While challenges remain, I was encouraged by what Froman said. For him to continue to make progress, he needs Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority.   

U.S. agricultural exports have increased by more than 58 percent since 2009 and set a record with $152.5 billion in sales in fiscal year 2014.

Our country needs a TPP agreement that will allow agricultural exports to continue being an economic juggernaut of the U.S. economy. As negotiators work on this agreement and future agreements, it needs to become accepted wisdom that trade-distorting policies are bad economics, whether they are used by developed or emerging countries. Economic studies show that reducing or eliminating trade barriers is the best way for emerging countries to strengthen their economies. 

We have made some tough decisions, such as reforming our cotton policy. It is now time for countries, like China, to take similar steps away from unsustainable, trade-distorting policies.

With the most productive farmers and ranchers in the world in America and 95 percent of the world’s population living outside of America, there is no question that these farmers and ranchers must have access to world markets if they are to prosper. Although we may fall short, the goal should be for our farmers and ranchers to have unfettered access to world markets. 

There is an important distinction that must be made between trade-distorting agricultural policies and a safety net for farmers. Some want to use these negotiations to force the United States to unilaterally eliminate or severely damage America’s safety net for our farmers and ranchers.

I have and will continue to strongly urge Froman and his fellow negotiators to push back against efforts to simply eliminate our safety net for farmers and ranchers.

Even in a perfect world, where our farmers and ranchers would have unfettered access to foreign markets, there will always remain a vital need for a safety net in America.

Our farmers and ranchers sell their food and fiber in a market over which they have no control. They may have made all of the right decisions, but at the end of the day, the price that they receive is set by others. Furthermore, they constantly face the risk of drought, floods or other forces of nature that can destroy their crops or livestock, as well as the significant investment of time and money that those crops and livestock represent.    

Efforts to dismantle our agricultural safety net would not only hurt farmers and ranchers. If we cannot feed or clothe ourselves, we will be a less secure nation. Furthermore, an abundant and affordable supply of safe food is an essential component of a strong world economy in which the freedoms that Americans enjoy can spread throughout the world.

The bounty of American agriculture has the ability to spread peace, prosperity and freedom throughout the world, and we all should work to make this a reality.

Conaway (R) has represented Texas’s 11th Congressional District since 2005. He is chairman of the Agriculture Committee and also sits on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

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