Glen Squires

Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires.

U.S. farmers are cheering a new trade deal with Japan that they say will put them on equal footing with overseas competitors.

"This is great news — this is what exactly what we've been working for ever since the U.S. pulled out of the TPP agreement," said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission. TPP was a trade agreement that included 12 Pacific Rim nations, including Japan and the U.S.

When President Donald Trump pulled out of TPP, wheat farmers and other sectors of agriculture feared they would be at a disadvantage in Japan, a critical market. Japan would assess higher import tariffs on U.S. crops than those from the nations that signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is the successor agreement to TPP, from which Trump withdrew in January 2017.

The commission and U.S. Wheat Associates, the marketing arm of the wheat industry,  worked "tirelessly" with the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative to provide background and insight to negotiators, Squires said.

Squires said the grain commission worked with Japanese flour millers and sent the same "logical, uniform" message to both sides of the trade discussions, he said.

"The millers want to be able to buy our wheat competitively as well," he said. "This type of agreement is what we needed for both sides to have a win-win."

Randy Fortenbery, small grains economist at Washington State University, said he isn't sure what the original benefits were to withdrawing from TPP.

"The president made it clear he didn't like these multi-nation trade arrangements," he said. "If you believe bilateral trade arrangements are preferred, then that would explain why we had the delay. But we still don't face as attractive trading arrangements with the other 10 countries."

The new agreement with Japan "can't be implemented soon enough for us," said Jim Monroe, assistant vice president of communications of the National Pork Producers Council. "When we can compete on a level playing field, we do very well. We're eager to get back to competitive terms in Japan and export more U.S. pork there."

Other organizations also welcomed the deal.

“Japan has long been a valued and reliable trading partner for soybeans, and we appreciate that the agriculture component of this deal will assure continued market access for our beans and other ag products," Davie Stephens, president of the American Soybean Association and a Clinton, Ky., grower, said in a press release. "As we go through the details of the agreement, we extend a thank you to the administration for finalizing this deal.”

Western Growers president and CEO Tom Nassif said in a press release the agreement "opens up real market opportunities" for producers of fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts."

“We are also pleased to learn that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe have agreed to further negotiations to address the remaining non-tariff barriers to trade," Nassif said. "Historically, Japan has used non-scientific sanitary and phytosanitary standards to prohibit many high-quality U.S. fruits, vegetables and tree nuts from entering the Japanese market. Therefore, to ensure the market gains secured in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement are fully realized, we must continue to push for reform of the Japanese importation system.”

"This agreement is a significant step in further opening an already important market for American farmers and ranchers," Farmers for Free Trade, a pro-trade group, said in a statement. "While we look forward to seeing the full text of the final agreement, this is a step in the right direction. Our farmers need trade wins, not trade wars. We hope this new agreement leads to more wins, as well as progress in achieving a better trade relationship with China.”

Because the new agreement doesn't substantively change any U.S. laws, Congress doesn't have to approve it, according to the Trump administration.

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