OPINION It’s no secret that when I was growing up one of my biggest dreams was to become a farmer. I’ve been fortunate enough to live that dream. But for too many of our friends and neighbors the past decade has turned their dreams into nightmares. Depressed commodity prices, wet weather and the costs of innovation have all taken their toll. Fortunately new opportunities and the hope that comes with them may provide our farmers with a much-needed boost.
This past month I had the honor of representing Wisconsin at the signing of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House, along with agricultural leaders from across the country. Prior to the agreement the average Japanese tariff on a U.S. agricultural product to Japan was 17 percent but now that’s changing. The agreement will result in Japan eliminating or reducing tariffs on $7.2 billion of U.S. food and agricultural products. Some items such as a variety of fruits and vegetables will have the tariffs eliminated immediately. Other items such as ethanol, frozen poultry, processed pork and egg products will see tariffs eliminated in stages.
That’s a great first step for Wisconsin farmers, with the potential for further progress. The understanding between Japan and our country is that we will continue bilateral trade negotiations, including those dealing with improved access to U.S. dairy products. Japan’s appetite for dairy products has grown through the years; dairy imports to Japan have increased 16 percent this year compared to 2018. But the United States share of that has not grown; the European Union has gained market share. Hence we still have further work to do and that work will continue under this agreement.
Japan is an important market for Wisconsin farmers; it is our fifth-leading buyer of agricultural exports. In 2017 we exported $145 million worth of agricultural goods. In 2018 those export numbers increased by about 21 percent to $175 million. That includes increases in meat and prepared vegetables such as sweet corn. The new trade deal is a win for Wisconsin farmers and will result in further increased shipments of those products to Japan. Additionally central-Wisconsin cranberry and potato growers will benefit from the deal; their market share in Japan should grow as well.
We have more work to do. Nov. 30 will mark the one-year anniversary of when Canada joined the United States and Mexico in signing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But Congress has failed to act to approve the deal. As with the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will be another win for Wisconsin farmers. Canada is Wisconsin’s leading export market, purchasing more than $1.4 billion in agricultural products. Mexico comes in only two slots behind at $250 million. Under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Canada has agreed to phase-in increased quota access for U.S. dairy products. They include fluid milk, cream, butter, skim-milk powder, cheese and other dairy products. The increased dairy access is estimated to be worth $242 million, and our farmers would likely be the biggest beneficiaries. Wisconsin farmers exported a wide variety of products to Mexico; the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will only increase those shipments because the agreement ensures zero tariffs for years to come.
Wisconsin farmers have faced setbacks but we’re still among the best at what we do. Give us an even playing field and we can compete with anyone in the world. New deals like the one with Japan – or the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement currently before Congress – are wins for our country, our state and our neighbors. I urge everyone to contact their federally elected officials to urge passage.