Jan. 7, 2015

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106

WASHINGTON (Jan. 7, 2015) – National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson argues in a POLITICO Pro guest column today that all future U.S. trade agreements should be negotiated with the goal of reducing the U.S. trade deficit, while ensuring that our trading partners are keeping up with their end of the agreement and abiding by U.S. standards.

“U.S. trade negotiators have lost sight of getting a fair shake in trade over the years as they have entered into a string of agreements under the assumption that increased trade and the elimination of trade and investment barriers was, in and of itself, a worthy goal,” notes Johnson. “In fact, our nation has been so willing to sacrifice almost anything in its lust for more trade that the concept of fair and equal trade seems to have fallen into an abyss.”

Johnson argues that trade is neither inherently good nor bad; it’s just trade. “And for the U.S., it has become anything but fair,” he says.

Johnson points out that while trade has benefitted U.S. agriculture, which represents about 10 percent of net exports, the good news stops there. “In fact, since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and entering into free trade agreements with 20 different countries, instead of promoting economic growth, the U.S. has seen its trade deficit increase. And as such, it has become a major net drag on our economy,” he says.

The U.S. had a $471.5 billion trade deficit in 2013. In the month of September 2014 alone, the U.S. had a $43 billion trade deficit, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, represented a full three percent drag on the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “In other words, if the trade deficit didn’t exist, our economy would be doing three percent better, generating good jobs for Americans and offering a future for our children,” he says.

Johnson explains that under various trade agreements, many important U.S. laws protecting investors, labor rights, the environment and the U.S. currency have been preempted in favor of —simply— more trade. “The net result is that products are often produced in nations with the lowest standards in these areas, hurting U.S. workers who are competing on uneven turf and pushing the nation deeper into debt,” he says.

Johnson argues that this nation’s leaders – on both sides of the aisle – seem fully committed to rushing into yet more trade talks. The U.S. is currently negotiating two trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an agreement with the European Union.

Johnson notes that the U.S. needs to take a new approach to trade, which includes three important guidelines:

  1. All future U.S. trade agreements should have the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the U.S. trade deficit, not just increasing trade flows.
  2. The U.S. must not enter agreements that will subvert the jurisdiction of our important and hard-fought domestic laws, protecting workers, the environment and our children.
  3. The U.S. needs to stop thinking of trade as if it were a club by which it can single-handedly browbeat other nations into changing their behavior. “It was this mindset that brought us the failed Cuban trade embargo, something National Farmers Union has opposed for years. Thankfully, the Obama administration has taken the first step. Now it is time for Congress to fully lift the embargo.”

“The time is now to open a new chapter on America’s trade policies. Moving forward, let’s make sure these deals have real, balanced and fair benefits for us, before we put our names on them,” he says.

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.

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