Trade Policies That Work for America's Farmers and Ranchers | Commentary

Agriculture is a cornerstone of our national economy, supporting 16 million jobs both on and off the farm. American farmers and ranchers are the most innovative and productive in the world, providing us with the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world.

As global population and incomes rise, there will be increased demands for food and fiber. It is vital that our nation’s trade policies work for American agriculture to meet that demand, helping provide for the nutritional needs of some 7 billion people around the world. In order to make that happen, we must pass Trade Promotion Authority.

TPA empowers Congress to move an aggressive trade agenda. Through TPA, Congress directs the executive branch on negotiating objectives and guidelines and then holds each agreement accountable when it comes before each chamber for approval. In the end, an up-or-down vote in Congress will decide the fate of each agreement. This requires U.S. trade officials to routinely consult members of Congress each step of the way, while also affording our trade team the certainty they need when at the negotiating table.

The mere possibility of Congress changing the terms of an agreement undermines our nation’s capacity to successfully conclude a trade agreement because no trading partner will come to terms when those terms can be unilaterally changed. Without TPA, our trading partners ultimately will look elsewhere and opportunities to expand exports and increase trade will be lost.

America’s farmers and ranchers, and the U.S. economy, will benefit from expanded trade and the economic growth trade promotes, removing trade barriers and allowing our producers to compete on a more level global playing field. In 2014, U.S. agriculture exports reached a record-setting $152.5 billion, highlighting the growing demand for quality food and fiber around the world. In total, merchandise exports to our 20 free trade agreement partner countries alone totaled $765 billion, with no small thanks to American agriculture.

I have long been a proponent of free trade and the benefits it provides for our nation’s producers and consumers. However, if we are not going to continue to expand markets for America, other countries, often with lower standards, will step up to the plate and fill the demand. Markets are not won or regained easily when lost, and billions around the globe want the quality food and fiber we can offer them.

We can win over new markets, boost our economy and meet these global demands first and foremost by showing that we are a strong and reliable trading partner. We can make it happen by passing TPA.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.