The San Joaquin Valley has suffered for years from over-regulation and a resulting man-made drought. With the U.S. Senate having blocked a comprehensive water solution, the lack of surface water is creating excessive demand on the aquifer, threatening even worse water problems in the future. These policies – imposed by big-government adherents and environmental extremists – have been particularly harmful to small farms, many of which are now struggling just to survive.
Today the fight continues for farmers’ simple right to cultivate their own land – this is a battle we must win and eventually will. But in the meantime, some major trade initiatives are advancing that would create ag jobs while dramatically improving conditions for Valley farmers and farmworkers, their families and the many local industries associated with agriculture.
The first of these agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will reduce trade barriers among twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region, creating vast new markets for U.S. agricultural goods. For example, U.S. dairy producers will gain better access to Malaysia and Vietnam, where dairy consumption is rising rapidly, as well as to Canada – California’s biggest agriculture export market – which retains barriers that can double or triple the cost of dairy products.
Consider the implications of reaching an agreement with just one TPP participant – Japan. That is the fourth-largest market for California agriculture exports despite its imposition of extensive barriers and tariffs that have frustrated U.S. exporters for decades. It is the fourth-largest market for California dairy goods – even though its dairy tariffs average 93 percent – and it is the second biggest export market for California blueberries, dried plums, raisins, cherries, raspberries and blackberries, strawberries, lemons, olives and olive oil, and tangerines and mandarins. If our farmers can do so well in Japan even when their goods are delayed, obstructed, and sold at artificially inflated prices, just imagine the possibilities – more sales, more investment, more business expansion and more jobs – if they competed on a level playing field.
The second major agreement is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will create a giant free-trade zone between the United States and Europe. U.S. negotiators aim to eliminate all tariffs facing U.S. goods in Europe and to reduce or remove so-called “behind-the-border” barriers that block some U.S. agricultural goods from the European market. A top priority is to eliminate sanitary and phytosanitary barriers (SPS), which are exclusions based on food-safety claims that often have little scientific justification.
The EU is the number one export market for California almonds and walnuts, and the number two market for our pistachios. Cancelling lingering tariffs on those products is just one of many benefits California growers will gain from TTIP. Consider this: total agriculture imports into the EU jumped 145 percent over the last decade, and total U.S. agriculture exports grew 176 percent, yet U.S. agriculture exports to the EU grew only 54 percent. Tearing down trade barriers via TTIP would throw Europe’s door wide open to U.S. farmers, allowing them to compete on an even footing in one of the world’s biggest markets for food. TPP and TTIP will be “WTO-plus” agreements that surpass traditional WTO commitments. Imposing tough enforcement measures based on sound science, they will create a new standard of free and fair trade among countries comprising around 65 percent of world GDP.
There are still challenges ahead in negotiating these deals, and their prospects for approval would improve with more direct engagement by President Obama. But there is strong bipartisan support for them, since they will benefit the entire nation.
In the San Joaquin Valley, the less water we have, the less we’ll gain from these agreements. Nevertheless, these pacts are a chance to further improve one of the few bright spots on the economic landscape – California agriculture exports have jumped from $6.5 billion in 2001 to $16.9 billion in 2011. TPP and TTIP will permanently open even more vital markets to American farmers, creating new, reliable customers for the full range of U.S. agricultural goods.
Having been beaten down by regulations promulgated by those with little understanding of agriculture, our farmers finally have some big opportunities to improve their own fortunes. That’s all they’re asking for, and in return for feeding us, it’s the least they deserve.