Free Trade Pacts Bad For Michigan Agriculture

Curtis W. Ellis and Marilynn Momber, Northern Express Pending free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama are bad for Michigan farmers and must be rejected if we are to preserve our way of life. All three trade treaties are based on NAFTA-style policies which have displaced American farmers while sending jobs that support Michigan’s rural communities offshore. In fact, our leading export is jobs even as we reward companies that outsource jobs. Since NAFTA took effect, the United States has lost 300,000 farms and millions of jobs. Major commodity groups and agribusiness organizations have been beating the drum for passage of these free trade agreements (FTAs). They make dubious claims that there will be massive export gains for farm products as a result of these FTAs. The American Farm Bureau Federation Farm has released a study that estimates the Korea FTA would result in $1.65 billion in additional U.S. agricultural sales - but the Farm Bureau’s figures only look at gross exports while never including expanded imports. Net trade is what matters. The Farm Bureau’s fuzzy math also arbitrarily assumes an automatic 10% increase (a figure pulled out of thin air) for U.S. market share in Korea for every American agricultural sector, despite a finding from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) that says corn, soybeans and wheat would be net losers, and rice is not even covered in the Korea FTA. The USITC projects many American agricultural sectors would face a worsening trade balance were the free trade agreement to be implemented. This is a very serious manipulation. Loopholes in the FTAs rules-of-origin promote “leakage,” so countries such as China and Vietnam are allowed to gain at our expense. Since only 35% of a product’s value must be added in Korea, there is a major trans-shipment risk from China in processed foods. Chinese apples have already decimated the Michigan apple industry and we should not be allowing food processed in the U.S. or Korea but grown elsewhere to get free trade benefits such as the duty-free access provided by the deal. Michigan cattle and beef producers will also be harmed by these free trade acts. The U.S. has NAFTA-style trade deals with 17 other nations, and our cumulative trade deficit in cattle and beef is twice as high with these 17 countries as it is with the rest of the world. Over the past 30 years, more than half a million beef ranchers have left the industry as large meatpackers have reaped the benefits of these flawed trade agreements. Under the proposed deal, Korea could import cattle from China (the world’s third-largest cattle herd) and get preferred treatment to ship that beef to the U.S. Adding insult to injury, South Korea bans imports of our beef from cattle over 30 months old due to fears of mad cow disease. Colombia, a major beef producer, would also be able to trans-ship from Brazil, a gargantuan beef producer whose imports would harm our cattle industry. All three free trade acts have weak rules on labor standards and food safety and inspection which put Michigan farmers at a disadvantage. A Michigan cherry grower has to adhere to labor, environmental, pesticide and chemical usage standards that their counterparts overseas don’t face. Finally, all three acts weaken American sovereignty. Foreign investors and foreign corporations would be able to challenge state and federal laws before unelected, unaccountable international tribunals such as the World Bank and United Nations. The American taxpayer would have no rights of due process, and we’d be on the hook to pay compensation for claimed trade pact violations. We see how this works with the recent World Trade Organization ruling striking down U.S. country of origin labeling law. That law – approved by the U.S. Congress – lets consumers know where the food they eat is grown. The Canadian and Mexican governments challenged it, saying it gives food grown in the U.S.A. an unfair advantage over imports. If the ruling stands, the will of the American people will be nullified by anonymous bureaucrats in Geneva, and American citizens could be asked to pay “damages” to foreign agribusinesses “hurt” by our country-of-origin laws. Michigan’s 4th congressional district contains more farms than any other district in the state. We urge Congressman Dave Camp to reject these badly flawed trade deals. Michigan’s farmers and working families deserve fair trade and a fair shake, not the continued attack on our way of life that these pacts represent. Read original post here.