The congressional district I represent in the nation’s capital has some of the most fertile farmland in the entire world, making it the eighth largest agricultural district in terms of corn and soybeans production. For our farmers, planting season was just recently completed, and usually their biggest worry at this time is the unpredictable weather standing between them and their ideal yield. This year, however, uncertainty over international trade looms large over our agricultural communities.
With just four percent of the world’s population residing in the United States, our farmers rely on customers in other countries in order to sell their goods. While a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could result in a modernized deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the current uncertainty surrounding those discussions—coupled with possible retaliation by China over recent tariffs—is threatening that access for the first time in years.
That is why I traveled to all corners of our rural district last month to meet directly with local farmers, grain elevator operators and seed company owners to discuss free trade and its impact. What I heard was the need for common-sense trade policies that open up opportunities for our agriculture products instead of limiting them.
During a stop in Stark County, I had the chance to plant some corn on a farm near Wyoming. As we were making our way back and forth across his 160-acre field, the farmer shared with me that 60 percent of the corn we were putting into the ground is earmarked for export to other countries around the world—primarily Mexico. Without the free trade guaranteed by NAFTA, the number of available markets for his goods would shrink as domestic prices fall, putting his livelihood in jeopardy.
While visiting the Elkhart Grain Elevator in Logan County, the topic of exports came up once again with both the elevator’s employees and with local farmers. Grain elevators like this one transport our local grain commodities to all corners of the world, contributing to the 114.1 million metric tons of feed grains that were exported last year—a record year for that category. The fear in these communities is that any barriers to free trade would have a downstream effect, affecting both farms and grain elevator businesses.
Since NAFTA’s implementation almost 30 years ago, American agriculture exports have more than quadrupled from $8.9 billion to $38 billion annually, supporting more than 21 million jobs here at home. Illinois plays no small role in this, with our farmers producing more than 2.2 billion bushels of corn and 539 million bushels of soybeans for export last year. The grain exports to our neighbors in North America alone are vitally important to our local agriculture economy, which is why I emphasized the importance of staying in NAFTA to U.S. Trade Ambassador Lighthizer at a recent Ways and Means Committee hearing.
Ensuring that our trade deals are fair and not hurting our workers is an admirable goal, and I applaud President Trump’s determination to follow through on his promise to pursue this. However, it is clear from recent meetings across my district that the current rhetoric and approach on trade is having unintended effects on our nation’s agriculture industry. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade, I will continue to engage with the president and his team—and advocate for a trade policy that breaks down barriers, expands opportunities and helps Illinois agriculture succeed. iBi