“Today in America……a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.”
“And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”
– President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union address
In public, President Obama talks up the value of free trade. Unfortunately, he doesn’t where it may matter most: in private.
This failure comes at a bad moment, as trade ministers prepare to gather in Singapore on February 22 to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that promises to improve the flow of goods and services around the Pacific Rim. By refusing to push for trade at every opportunity, President Obama threatens American job creation and economic growth.
I live in the middle of the country, in the landlocked state of Iowa. But trade matters to me, as it does to farmers and ranchers all over the United States. Half of our soybeans and a third of our corn ships overseas. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that foreign sales of American fruits, grains, meats, and dairy almost have tripled since 2000.
This activity provides an incredible stimulus to our economy—and there’s more on the way, if only we choose to take advantage of it.
The planet is adding people all the time. Our global population will top 9 billion in 2050. That’s significant all by itself. But there is another important number we are watching and must plan for. In a similar time span, an additional 2 billion people will move into the middle-class and many of these consumers will expect to eat protein-rich diets. Think about what that means: two Chinas of potential new customers. Today’s China is already the leading buyer of U.S. farm exports, edging out Canada.
America’s farmers are ready and willing to keep on planting, harvesting, and selling, especially as new technologies help us grow more food on less land.
To take full advantage of this prospect, however, we’ll need political leaders who are committed to maintaining existing markets and opening new ones.
President Obama’s reluctance to lead the way became clear on February 3, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Democrat, emerged from a long meeting at the White House. A reporter asked Reid if he and the president had discussed trade. Reid’s reply was as blunt as it was discouraging: “No.”
Less than a week earlier, Reid had rebuked President Obama for urging Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a legislative device that will help the United States negotiate free-trade agreements. “We need to work together on tools like bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’” said the president, in his State of the Union speech.
Hours later, Reid punched back: “I’m against fast-trade,” he said, referring to TPA. “I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now.”
Coming from a man who has served as President Obama’s dutiful lieutenant for the last five years, this was an astonishing remark. A day after the president had addressed the nation on prime-time television, conversation in Washington switched away from what he had said and toward Reid’s open defiance.
So when President Obama and Reid met to review legislative priorities, everyone expected the president to dress-down his erstwhile ally. Yet President Obama decided to avoid the matter entirely.
When it comes to trade, the White House strategy is all style and no substance. It involves saying nice things in public and doing nothing in private.
President Obama’s greatest accomplishment on trade is to have persuaded Congress to approve agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. These deals are already benefiting American consumers and producers—and the president deserves a portion of the credit for their final passage.
Yet they had been negotiated during the Bush administration. If presidents were pitchers, Bush would earn the win and Obama would get the save.
Baseball clubs can win games without 9th-inning relievers. But they can’t win without good starters.
President Obama’s trade team has started two sets of talks that may yet produce results in separate deals with the EU and 11 Pacific Rim nations. We’ve already heard a lot about these opportunities in speeches.
Now it’s time for the President and Congress to take some pitches and hit a couple out of the park!
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).