Trade-less in the USA

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President Joe Biden is letting our country down. He appears destined to become the first modern U.S. president who has not negotiated a free-trade agreement.

The president has put our trade affairs in a sorry state. We’re doing nothing to improve our trade ties, even as many other countries are working to boost their prosperity by connecting their economies.

In July, Israel and Vietnam completed a trade agreement. In May, China and Ecuador signed a deal. The European Union and Australia were hoping to reach terms this summer—and despite last-minute setbacks, they’re still talking.

President Biden isn’t even trying.

His first term has about 16 months to go, but most Americans have not seen a president less committed to improving trade opportunities. President Biden has given no reason to believe anything will change in whatever time he remains in the White House.

This is a profound break from recent history. The United States currently has trade treaties in force with 20 countries. These are agreements for mutual benefit to improve the flow of goods and services across borders, through the reduction of tariffs and other artificial obstacles.

As a farmer who grows corn and soybeans in Iowa, I depend on international trade. The United States has now fallen behind Brazil in exports. They export 2 times as many soybeans as the US and this year, have overtaken us as the number 1 exporter of corn. We export between 10 and 20 percent of our corn crop, with Mexico, China, Japan, and Colombia as top destinations. We export close to half of all soybeans, with China, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan as leading buyers.

That’s good, but we always should strive to do better. Our political leaders must seek ways to break down barriers and make it easier to do business across borders. That’s why FTAs are so valuable. They generate customers for farmers like me, as well as for people in many other industries, from aircrafts to medical devices to financial services.

Presidents of both parties have understood this. The recent history of FTAs is a tale of bipartisan cooperation and achievement.

President Ronald Reagan spoke often about creating a free-trade zone in North America, which President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton accomplished through challenging diplomatic and congressional negotiations. President Clinton also launched trade talks with Jordan, and an agreement became a reality under President George W. Bush. The second Bush went on to secure deals with Australia, Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Peru, and Singapore. President Bush started discussions with South Korea and Panama, and President Barack Obama won their congressional approval, back when Biden was vice president.

Even President Donald Trump, who was a critic of free trade, has a trade agreement as a part of his legacy. He and his administration negotiated a significant FTA when he worked with Canada and Mexico to modernize NAFTA and turn it into the USMCA.

President Trump’s strongest supporters and most vigorous detractors probably can agree that he was unique among presidents as a breaker of norms. On trade, however, Biden is the breaker of norms and Trump is closer to a conventional president.

This is President Biden’s choice. He has neglected potential deals with the EU, United Kingdom, and Taiwan.

He also could have sought to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious agreement conceived during the Obama administration to create an alliance around the Pacific rim that would link a dozen national economies and build a bulwark against China. After President Trump made a decision I did not personally agree with to pull out of the TPP, the other countries forged ahead with their own version, the CPTPP.

President Biden hasn’t bothered with this important FTA. Now it’s possible that China will join, turning what was once a special opportunity for President Biden into the trade-treaty version of an own goal.

President Biden hasn’t even asked Congress for Trade Promotion Authority, which is a legislative tool any president must have before lawmakers will approve an FTA. Obama won its renewal in 2015, but Biden let it expire in 2021.

In the arena of global trade, we’ve squandered opportunities. We’ve surrendered America’s traditional leadership position. We’ve lost years of strength and leverage.

We have a choice to engage and to lead. It is time.

Featured image photo by Greg Rosenke

Tim Burrack

Tim Burrack

Tim grows corn, seed corn, soybeans and produces pork. Has been very involved with Mississippi River lock improvements and has traveled to Brazil to research their river, rail and road infrastructure changes. Tim volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network and is currently serving as Vice Chairman.

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