WORC, farm groups urge Congress to reject trade deal

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become a divisive issue in the nation’s capital, and criticism intensified after 161 food, farm, faith and rural organizations sent a letter to Capitol Hill today, urging lawmakers to reject the trade pact.

“The main beneficiaries of the TPP are the companies that buy, process and ship raw agricultural commodities, not the farmers who face real risks from rising import competition. TPP imports will compete against U.S. farmers who are facing declining farm prices that are projected to stay low for years,” the organizations wrote.

Past trade agreements have not delivered on export promises

The White House has promoted the TPP as an export-boon for farmers to generate support for the agreement, but past trade agreements have not always delivered on export promises, the letter noted. For example, the United States’ total combined exports of corn, soybeans and wheat have remained steady at about 100 million metric tons for the last 30 years despite a raft of free trade agreements since the mid-1990s.

“Trade deals do not just add new export markets – the flow of trade goes both ways – and the U.S. has committed to allowing significantly greater market access to imports under the TPP,” the groups explained.

“In its current form, the TPP sets to bankroll global business rather than foster local economies. It fails to address our alarming trade deficit and other serious issues that will be passed on to the family farmer, the everyday consumer and the American worker,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, one of the letter’s signers. “NFU understands this trade agreement is not a good deal for our nearly 200,000 family farm and ranch members.”

Especially “alarming” to the organizations is the agreement’s complete lack of enforceable provisions against currency manipulation, a substantial cause of America’s debilitating $531 billion trade imbalance.

“Trade negotiators refuse to deal with currency manipulation in the TPP. When our competitors artificially lower the value of their currency, my grain becomes more expensive and theirs is cheaper,” said Gene Wirtz, an Underwood, North Dakota farmer with the Dakota Resource Council. “Family farmers like us cannot compete. There’s been plenty of trade deals, each one touted to be our savior. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

The TPP poses particular risks for cattle producers

In 2015, the United States imported nearly 2.3 billion pounds of beef from TPP partners but only exported about 1.2 billion pounds. The TPP will increase beef and cattle imports at a time when domestic cattle prices are plummeting.

“The TPP rolls out the red carpet for foreign cattle imports to undercut American family ranchers,” said Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, on behalf of WORC. “We will face the added challenge of competing with cheap, unregulated and un-inspected imported beef. Like failed trade deals of the past, the beneficiaries of this agreement are the multi-national meatpackers at the expense of family farmers and ranchers.”

The TPP also covers important agricultural policy areas such as investment, procurement, labeling, food safety, animal health and crop disease. The stringent rules and dispute system under the TPP make it easier to challenge and overturn domestic laws, as happened last year to country of origin meat labels.

Trade deals put global commerce ahead of the needs of American farmers and consumers

“The TPP will add to the rising tide of imported food that is already overwhelming U.S. farmers, eaters and border inspectors,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Trade deals like the TPP make U.S. farm and food policy subservient to foreign trade tribunals that put global commerce ahead of the needs of American farmers and consumers.”

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the TPP benefits the big corporations who negotiated it. Nor does it surprise me that it holds no benefits for us, a small family farm in  Western Colorado selling to local markets,” said Hotchkiss, Colorado, farmer Wink Davis on behalf of Western Colorado Congress. “Giant food corporations used existing trade deals to rollback country-of-origin labeling. TPP threatens to do the same for other descriptors like local, organic, ecological, humane, that we use to describe our farming practices.”

The letter was introduced at a press teleconference with House Agriculture Committee Member Rep. Rick Nolan, NFU President Roger Johnson, Auburn University agricultural economist Professor C. Robert Taylor and independent rancher and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union member Steve Nein.

The letter and complete list of signers can be read here.

For more information, contact WORC regional organizer Liz Stelk, lmoran (at) worc.org.