The full text of the letter follows:
August 21, 2023
Dear Presidential Candidates,
International trade is critical to the continued success of U.S. agriculture. Over 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the United States, and 20% of U.S. farm revenue comes from exports. Without access to foreign markets for U.S. agriculture, the jobs of over a million American workers would be directly affected, with indirect effects threatening millions more throughout the export supply chain.
For decades, America sold more food and agricultural products to other countries than it imported. This year, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting we will run a food and agriculture trade deficit of $17 billion: This is a wake-up call.
We recognize U.S. trade policy has shifted drastically over the past 10 years. However, a continued emphasis on free and fair trade is vital to ensuring U.S. farmers and ranchers can grow and export enough food, feed, fiber, and fuel to supply the global marketplace. As we consider America’s relationship with China and other countries in the context of food and agriculture, it is critical that we move strategically with a firm understanding of our national interests.
As part of your policy platform, we ask you to consider the following requests on behalf of U.S. agriculture:
1. Ensure U.S.-China relations are handled in a manner that holds China accountable yet maintains market access for U.S. agricultural goods.
In 2000, Congress voted to admit China into the World Trade Organization by granting China Permanent Normal Trade Relation (PNTR) status. At the time, the U.S. sold just $1.73 billion in food and agricultural products to China. This constituted around 3% of our total food and agricultural exports, ranking China behind Canada, Mexico, the EU, Japan, and South Korea as buyers of U.S. farm products.
Admitting China into the WTO has paid dividends for America’s farm economy: In the past two decades, U.S. export sales to China have skyrocketed, supporting an agricultural trade surplus. In 2022, the U.S. exported $38.11 billion in food and agricultural products to China—an astounding 22-fold increase. China is now the largest buyer of U.S. food and agricultural products, purchasing 19% of our exports. These exports are critical to America’s farmers and rural communities.
Selling nearly 20% of U.S. food and ag exports to one country, however, leaves U.S. famers vulnerable to global supply chain shocks. When relations between our two countries turn sour, those exports can be disrupted. The tariffs and retaliatory tariffs put in place in 2018 and 2019 are still impacting U.S. farmers and food processers and impeding efforts to regain access to this critically important market.
2. Work to diversify export markets for U.S. agriculture.
Market diversification helps with risk mitigation for U.S. farm goods. Opening new markets and growing existing markets for agriculture decreases a reliance upon the Chinese market. Further, international trade is an important diplomatic tool that builds our relationship and good standing with other countries, in turn lessening China’s global influence.
It has been over a decade since the U.S. entered into a new comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA). During this same time, our friends and adversaries alike have been busy entering into FTAs, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and to bilateral deals like the ones created just this year between Australia and the UK and between China and Ecuador.
The U.S. needs to again take the lead in negotiating new FTAs with other countries and work to strengthen and reform the rules-based multilateral trading system. In many respects, future FTAs could be modeled on the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA) passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support. Such agreements could protect American workers and the environment, help contain China’s growing geopolitical influence, and open new export markets for our farmers by meaningfully reducing and eliminating tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers.
As we move toward the 2024 presidential election, stakeholders in the food and agriculture sector are here to serve as a resource. We ask you to commit to fighting for free and fair trade on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers, and we stand ready to answer any questions or provide additional information that may be needed by your campaign.
We look forward to working with you on these important issues.