WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2016 - To maintain a competitive agriculture, the next administration in Washington should adopt bipartisan trade policy, reform immigration laws and pursue water and pesticide regulatory policies that acknowledge the strategic importance of food, four experts told a Farm Foundation Forum Tuesday in Washington.
Policymakers who take office next January need to forget political campaign rhetoric and accept the fact that existing trade agreements stand up to scrutiny with benefits that outweigh any cost, former trade negotiator Craig Thorn, a partner at the DTB Associates consulting firm, insisted. “Doing away with them would not solve problems that some claim and could make them worse.”
One reason to continue to negotiate trade agreements, he said, is that “the rest of the world is doing it.” Beginning in the early 1990s, “countries moved into negotiating bilateral agreements in a big way. They are negotiating agreements right and left.” The European Union has 37 agreements with 93 countries, the United States 14 agreements with 20 countries, he said.
Bilateral negotiations do not make the World Trade Organization irrelevant, Thorn said, if for no other reason than the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement that requires member countries to make regulatory decisions based on science. However, the agreement needs better enforcement, he said. “A lot of countries are in breach of the agreement.”
Thorn added, “For the health of our economy, and especially the agricultural economy, we need more trade agreements.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership should be ratified by Congress, he said. “It would be disastrous for U.S. trade policy if TPP goes down.”
The next administration will be challenged to resist European Union regulatory policies affecting agricultural chemicals, said Daniella Taveau, a King & Spalding trade consultant and former U.S. trade negotiator.
The EU’s approach “appears to be driven by politics, not science,” she said. “The EU has a highly politicized environment, especially when it comes to agriculture.”
Taveau said U.S. agriculture and the new administration should be concerned by last year's decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is likely cancer-causing, a finding rejected so far by both U.S. and EU regulators. “IARC appears to be heavily influenced by activists,” she added.
The next administration could help agriculture if its regulatory policies reflected the strategic importance of food production, said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Oregon-based Family Farm Alliance, which represents producers in 17 Western states.
It should “find ways to streamline regulatory hurdles” and “bring the question of U.S. food security into any analysis of water policy,” he said. “We would like to see a scenario that assumes that irrigated acreage will not be diminished and may, in fact, need to be expanded.”
Keppen added, “We cannot continue to downplay or ignore the negative implications of reallocating more agricultural water supplies in the West for urban growth or environmental purposes.”
Ken Barbic, senior director of governmental affairs for Western Growers Association, said he sees the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congress after this year's campaign rhetoric is allowed to cool.
“U.S. agriculture operates in an internationally competitive market and it depends on labor,” he said. “It is not difficult for production to shift and shift easily. We have certain advantages but without labor you are not competitive.”
Agriculture needs reform that deals with the current work force and streamlines the legal immigration program for farm workers, he said. After the election, he believes, there is “significant agreement on both sides of the aisle. When you talk to members of Congress, there is actually less disagreement than the political campaign would lead you to believe. Once we get past the election we hope to see more of that common ground.”
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