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Farmers Implore Trump To Protect Ag Trade Deals

A coalition of 16 farm associations are asking President-elect Donald Trump not to hurt existing trade relationships as he seeks more favorable trade deals.

In a letter signed by trade groups representing virtually every agriculture sector, farm leaders remind Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence that the “importance of trade to America’s farmers and ranchers cannot be overstated.”

The farm groups stressed that current trade deals, particularly those with China, Canada and Mexico, should not be abandoned. As the Trump administration “assembles its team and policies, U.S. agricultural trade interests must be maintained, not only in existing markets but by expanding access to new markets,” the letter said.

Trump has made numerous statements about the importance of fair trade deals rather than free trade deals, something farmers would be happy to see as well.

“New fair trade agreements are needed to enable U.S. farmers, ranchers, and agricultural exporters to compete—and win—in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world,” the letter said.

Trump has not yet announced his pick for secretary of agriculture, but many reports suggest that former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who also worked on agriculture export issues in the private sector, is the leading contender for the position.

Around 20 percent of all agriculture products grown and raised in the U.S. are exported, but some sectors depend on trade for a higher percentage of their profits. Cotton and tree nut producers, for example, export around 70 percent of their crops; rice and wheat growers export 50 percent of their volume.

“The health of U.S. agriculture depends on our ability to sell our products outside of the United States,” Jim Mulhern, CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, one of the signers of the letter, said in a press release.

Dairy farmers are being hit hard by falling export prices and decreased overseas demand, causing many dairies to downsize and prompting a $20 million bailout of the industry in the form of surplus cheese. (RELATED: US Gov’t Buying Enough Cheddar For 67 MILLION Grilled Cheese Sandwiches)

“We have a positive trade balance in agriculture, and don’t want to see those hard-earned export markets eroded,” Mulhern said.

Farm exports increased at a mostly steady pace between 2000 and 2014, but over the past two years farmers have felt the squeeze due to decline in global trading. Exports dropped in 2015 to the lowest point since 2009, due in part to flagging demand due to slowed global economic growth overseas, according to the Department of Agriculture. Exports to China, which had increased steadily from 2000 to 2012, have declined over the past several years.

Agriculture trade experts worry that many countries in the Asia Pacific — perhaps one of the “fastest growing markets in the world” the farm groups mention — would choose to buy more food products from China if the U.S. didn’t negotiate favorable trade deals, prompting support from farm lobbyists for the Trans-Pacific Partnership which will go nowhere under Trump. (RELATED: Donald Trump Promises To Quit TPP On Day One)

For farm groups, “there’s a lot more that we were gaining [from TPP] than we were losing,” Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, which also put its name on the letter to Trump, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“There’s a concern that without [the TPP], China could step into that breach and take over that platform,” Moore said.

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