WASHINGTON, D.C. – For his work to fight for open markets for American agriculture, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today was presented the Congressional Leadership Award by the Washington International Trade Association. The award recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions in the field of international trade.
“Just last year, the total value of U.S. agricultural exports was over $138 billion. That is roughly a 200 percent increase from when NAFTA took effect,” said Chairman Roberts. “Clearly, free trade is not only good for U.S. agriculture, it is absolutely essential.”
“We should be aggressively seeking new agreements and trading opportunities around the world. And, then work to meet that demand. The United States should be leading the charge. We are not, and if we do not change course there is a danger we will be left behind.”
“Trade, more especially agricultural trade, should not be used as a weapon. Rather it is a tool – a tool for peace, for national security through open markets, and for economic growth.
From his post as both Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and as a senior member of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction on trade, Roberts has long been outspoken on the benefits of increased access to foreign markets for American farmers and ranchers – taking his concerns directly to President Trump, U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and other high-ranking officials in the Administration.
Read Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for that introduction, Mr. Secretary, it is a privilege to be here and to accept the Congressional Leadership Award.
And thank you to Ken Levinson and the Washington International Trade Association for this great honor, and for what you do.
Congratulations to my fellow honorees – my colleague Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland, and our top gun over at the Department of Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue.
And I especially want to thank everyone in this room, who works tirelessly towards the goal of strengthening international trade.
Whether you are a government official, a business leader, an industry representative, or hold any other number of roles related to trade policy, you are all part of what we in the Agriculture Committee call the trade posse. On the occasions that it is my turn to ride point, it is always reassuring to look around every once in a while and see that you are still right there with me.
It is a privilege to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.
That means that I work every day on behalf of farmers, ranchers, growers, and other rural stakeholders in Kansas and across the country.
As you know, our producers face incredible challenges in their effort to feed a growing and hungry world. In addition to the intense labor required in their jobs, they must overcome variables completely outside of their control, including markets, drought, excessive regulation, and of course, trade actions.
Farmers, ranchers, and growers rely on markets. But, trade has an impact broader than farmers and ranchers. It affects the entire food and agriculture value chain—lenders, input suppliers, manufacturers, food processors, shippers, and the list goes on.
For years, the United States has worked to establish itself as a reliable supplier around the world.
In the early 1990s, as Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, part of my job as the pro-trade Republican from Kansas, was to help my good friend, Chairman Kika de la Garza, in touting the benefits of the brand new North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
At that time, the total value of U.S. agriculture exports was $43 billion.
Since 1994, when NAFTA went into force, the value of U.S. agricultural exports to Canada has increased by 271 percent and to Mexico by 305 percent.
Now, I’m the first to admit that every trade agreement I’ve ever supported has been over criticized, and also over sold. But, there is always a sweet spot…and the final agreements have all benefited U.S. agriculture.
Agreements like CAFTA, KORUS, Columbia, Panama, Peru and many others, have boosted national security and led to economic growth, especially in the agriculture industry.
In 2017, just last year, the total value of U.S. agricultural exports was over $138 billion— that is roughly a 200 percent increase from when NAFTA took effect. Clearly, free trade is not only good for U.S. agriculture, it is absolutely essential.
Forging these global relationships has not come without challenges.
Just a few years ago we were embroiled in a battle with our neighbors over Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL – which as it turns out wasn’t very cool. It took over a decade to resolve that dispute and restore the supply chain that our livestock and meat industries rely on.
We consistently have to fight back against trade barriers around the globe that ignore science and place our producers at a competitive disadvantage, through regulations, subsidies, or any number of other bad behaviors.
The United States should continue to be a leader through global organizations like the WTO, as well as through our own domestic policies.
The bipartisan Farm Bill we championed through the Senate just a few weeks ago, passed with a historic margin of 86 votes.
Notably, the Senate Farm Bill protects and increases investment in agricultural export programs, including the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program.
Both will help our farmers, ranchers, and growers to overcome trade barriers and build markets for their products.
We should be aggressively seeking new agreements and trading opportunities around the world. And, then work to meet that demand.
The United States should be leading the charge. We are not, and if we do not change course there is a danger we will be left behind.
For instance, and with all due respect to my Australian friends in the room, Japan should be relying on the United States, and more especially my home state of Kansas, for wheat and beef.
Now, there is no question that we are facing challenging times as it relates to trade policies.
I have voiced my concern time and time again that tariffs placed on our trading partners pose a significant threat to the international markets upon which our economy relies.
We have seen those threats realized over the past several weeks – notably exports of soybeans and meat in China. And, the problem is only growing as other trading partners follow suit.
Markets that the United States has spent decades building and supplying are now at a turning point. Our role as a reliable supplier is at risk.
Going back to the days of President Carter’s grain embargo, we learned that trade, more especially agricultural trade, should not be used as a weapon. Rather it is a tool – a tool for peace, for national security through open markets, and for economic growth.
As the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and a senior member of the Finance Committee, I want you to know that I have had your back, and I will continue to have your back.
I, along with like-minded colleagues in the Senate, will continue to fight alongside of you for certainty and predictability in our trade policies, as we have always done.
Obviously, there is still much work to do. I promise you I will continue to be your champion.
Simply put, free trade cannot be jeopardized. Farmers, ranchers, growers, and many others engaged in the U.S. economy depend on our success.
I want to again thank WITA for this award as well as everyone in this room for your support.