During his keynote speech to the opening General Session of Commodity Classic on Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called on corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum farmers to “get engaged” on the issue of trade promotion authority, TPA. He warned that a lack of TPA would make trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) impossible to negotiate and that the lack of such an agreement would have a devastating impact on US agricultural trade. He added that lack of a multinational agreement like TPP would allow China to dictate trade in Asia and keep US farmers out of this vital and growing market.
He chided the farmer groups for not being as aggressive on this issue as they had been on the Farm Bill. He said Congress needs to hear from farmers about the importance of this issue. Chris Novak, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, told HAT corn growers would make TPA a higher priority in the future, “We heard the Secretary’s message and will make our support of TPA known to Congress.”
Before his speech to the Commodity Classic, Vilsack had joined with a bipartisan group of former U.S. Agriculture Secretaries, representing all past Administrations from those of President Jimmy Carter to President George W. Bush, to issue an open letter urging Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority. The former secretaries note that boosting trade and exports is highly beneficial to America’s agriculture economy and that Trade Promotion Authority, which has been given to all previous presidents since Gerald Ford, is critical for successfully negotiating new trade partnerships that boost exports and create jobs. Congress may begin consideration of legislation to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority as early as this week.
In his remarks at Classic, Vilsack did not make reference to efforts in Congress to re-open the Farm Bill or recommendations by the Obama administration to make cuts in federal crop insurance. He voiced support for the RFS, GMOs, and conservation, but failed to call for support of crop insurance or protecting current farm programs.
Following the Secretary’s speech, the organizations that organized Classic released a statement expressing concern about Vilsack’s omission. “On behalf of our farmer members, we are united in our support for the comprehensive farm bill passed by Congress just over one year ago. We are keenly aware of the cuts just made to mandatory spending across many titles and strongly oppose any changes or cuts to farm bill programs, many of which are just now being implemented.” The statement also noted the current downturn in farm prices and lower profits for American farmers. The groups called on Congress to stand up for American agriculture, “Our family farmers work hard each season to provide a safe and abundant supply of food, feed, fuel, and fiber for the world. The best way for Congress to support our work is to not stand in the way of a law that works and has great promise for rural America.”