The Biden administration needs to concentrate on negotiating to gain increased access to foreign markets for U.S. ag exporters — especially in Asia — or risk falling further behind in the international race to increase trade ties, according to a diverse panel of experts gathered Thursday by Farmers for Free Trade.

Panelists like Debra Gangwish, a board member for the National Corn Growers Association, Howard Roth, former president of the National Pork Producers Council and Doug Chapin, chairman of the board for the Michigan Milk Producers, said farmers and ranchers are increasingly dependent on foreign markets and stressed the urgency the ag sector feels for new free trade agreements.

Whether it’s rejoining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, resuming negotiation with the UK or embarking on new free trade agreements, the U.S. needs to begin taking action, the panelists said.

“Aside from the (U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement) update to (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the last new U.S. free trade agreements went into effect nearly a decade ago with negotiations having taken place even earlier than that,” Chapin said. “We seem to either be evaluating or at times negotiating deals, but not implementing new comprehensive trade agreements that eliminate tariffs on our exports.”

China and the UK are moving to join the CPTPP and the U.S. needs to rejoin said Gangwish, but also stressed that there are other nations that she could be buying a lot more U.S. farm goods.

“We feel the opportunities for new agreements need to be sought after in areas that are experiencing rapid population growth — Southeast Asia, India, Africa, said Gangwish,” who has a cow-calf operation and grows corn, sorghum and soybeans in Nebraska. “We need to be there … the opportunity for us there is phenomenal.”

One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the pact with 11 other Pacific Rim countries could be implemented. The other nations, including Japan and Vietnam, elongated the name and eventually moved on without the U.S.

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Before the 2020 election, Joe Biden said during the campaign he would consider the U.S. rejoining, but has made no move to do so since taking office. The Biden administration also let Trade Promotion Authority — legislation key to negotiating new free trade agreement — expire this year and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has not given a timeline for reinstating it.

“While we’re … dealing with the impact of trade wars,” said Joe Glauber, a senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and former USDA chief economist, “a lot of other countries around the world have been pursuing trade agreements.”

Darci Vetter, the chief ag negotiator for the USTR when TPP was being negotiated, stressed that the U.S. is capable of enforcing and maintaining existing trade deals — something the Biden administration has focused on — while at the same time negotiating new ones.

Glauber agreed, saying he hopes the Biden administration “starts looking outward and starts looking for potential re-engagement.”

The office of the USTR announced last week a new campaign of direct engagement with China on trade, but also stressed that there were no plans to begin negotiations on a new trade pact.

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