President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, given Wednesday, contained an unexpected defense of trade and a renewed commitment to the trade agenda that wheat growers hope portend more aggressive action in this policy area.
In a passage about creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitiveness that also touched on financial reform, innovation and climate change, Obama said:
“…[W]e need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.
“We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we’ll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.”
Obama did not specifically call for passage of three pending trade agreements – with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – nor did he lay out specifics of how his new Initiative will help increase exports.
Still, the very fact that the trade agenda, which has languished since Obama took office a year ago, made it into the important speech is cause for optimism in the U.S. wheat industry, which typically exports about half of its annual production and is deeply concerned about the loss of up to $90 million in sales to Colombia if the U.S.-Colombia agreement isn’t ratified soon.
Thursday morning, NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates, who work jointly on trade policy on behalf of wheat growers, released a joint statement from their grower-leaders.
“As leaders of an industry dependent on exports for half its sales, we were thrilled to hear that President Obama plans to give trade a more prominent role in his administration’s economic recovery agenda,” said NAWG President Karl Scronce and U.S. Wheat Chair Janice Mattson.
“…We couldn’t agree more, and we believe that an ideal way to kick-start this trade initiative is to finalize the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement…We encourage the Administration to send these agreements to the Hill, and Congress to approve them as soon as possible. We also encourage the Senate to find solutions to the disagreements holding up key trade nominees, without which our country cannot negotiate new agreements in good faith.”
NAWG and U.S. Wheat will continue to work with the Administration and Congress on the Colombia agreement and other key trade priorities, including opening trade with Cuba and achieving a reasonable Doha Round agreement.
The full NAWG and U.S. Wheat statement is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/2010/01/wheat-leaders-applaud-obama%E2%80%99s-emphasis-on-trade-in-state-of-the-union-3/