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‘Do no harm’ to exports, Washington wheat groups urge

Washington wheat industry leaders are urging Congress to emphasize “do no harm” to agricultural exports, expressing concerns over decisions to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and renegotiate the Korean Free Trade Agreement and North American Free Trade Agreement.

Published on November 8, 2017 10:50AM

Capital Press File

The Washington wheat industry is urging Congress to emphasize a strategy to “do no harm” to agricultural exports as the Trump administration renegotiates several trade agreements.

The Washington Grain Commission and Washington Association of Wheat Growers in a joint press release warned of fallout if international commerce is jeopardized.

“Today, nearly 90 percent of the wheat produced in Eastern Washington heads overseas to some of America’s most important allies. The Philippines, Japan and Korea are the Pacific Northwest’s top three purchasers,” said Mike Miller, chairman of the grain commission and U.S. Wheat Associates. “While trade uncertainty clouds our farmers’ future, it is equally unsettling for our reliable customers who depend on the quality of Pacific Northwest soft white wheat.”

The organizations cited President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The 12-nation trade treaty would have given the U.S. wheat industry additional access to Pacific Rim markets and created a level playing field in the midst of increasing competition.

“The other 11 countries are moving forward with the trade deal, including major wheat export competitors,” the press release states.

The organizations also cited renegotiations of the Korean Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Mexico was the No. 1 buyer of U.S. wheat in the 2016-2017 marketing year, purchasing 12 percent of U.S. exports. The industry seeks trade improvements for cross-border wheat trade with Canada. Canadian law current requires U.S. wheat imports to receive the country’s lowest grade and price, hindering U.S. exports.

“The wheat industry is fond of using the expression, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ as a way to describe how wheat exports among any growing region in the U.S. helps prices for everyone,” said Ben Adams, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. “But an ebbing tide also affects everyone. If Mexico were to retreat from buying tariff-free U.S. wheat, it would badly injure farmers and regional wheat economies as tariffs on U.S. wheat would rise.”

“The world is awash in wheat and the rest of the world is gunning for our markets,” Miller said. “If Mexico encourages purchasing from other origins because of a new agreement or even anticipation of renegotiating an agreement, they will have no shortage of nations willing to fill the void. The slightest crack in the door has the potential for long-term damage.

— Matthew Weaver


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