COMMENTARY: Fighting to help farmers impacted by trade policies

When I tell my colleagues in Congress that Delaware is a microcosm of the United States, I’m often met with, “Really?” It’s because they aren’t familiar with all the First State has to offer.

While many know us for our prosperous cities, pristine shoreline and tax-free shopping, one of our best-kept secrets is our rich farmland and agricultural tradition.

Agriculture is an eight-billion-dollar industry in Delaware. Almost 40 percent of Delaware is comprised of agricultural land, and roughly 90 percent of our farms are family-owned businesses.

That’s why when I was sworn in as a member of Congress, I fought hard to get on the House Agriculture Committee — making me the first Delawarean in over 120 years to serve on the committee.

Trade plays a significant role in Delaware’s agricultural economy. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Delaware exported $4.5 billion in goods in 2016, and in 2015, our farmers exported $252 million in agricultural products. International trade supports an estimated 24,000 jobs in our state, which is why our federal government needs to be thoughtful when it comes to trade policy.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

We do need to hold bad foreign actors accountable for their unfair trade imbalances and currency manipulation, and we need to do it without triggering an all-out trade war.

Whether you agree with President Trump’s trade policies or not, it is clear that Delaware farmers are feeling the negative impact of the retaliatory tariffs he caused. Delaware’s farmers and growers have been hit especially hard because the set of retaliatory tariffs that China has imposed on U.S. goods includes a 25 percent tariff on soybeans and corn – staple crops in our state agricultural economy.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture estimates soybean and corn growers have already lost more than $28 million in the past 60 days — affecting our farmers’ bottom line even before the fall harvest.

Last week, President Trump announced a new program to provide temporary relief to farmers and growers hurt by his trade policies, but I believe we need a permanent fix so that all farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs on exports have the tools needed to adjust to changing markets.

That’s why I introduced H.R. 6483, the Trade Assistance for Farmers Act. My bill would permanently expand the existing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program to protect our agricultural exporters who are negatively impacted by trade policies.

Currently, farmers and growers are eligible for TAA benefits when they experience hardship from increased imports, but the program does nothing to help farmers and growers impacted by tariffs on U.S. crops.

I believe we need to provide growers the long-term surety that they can and will remain competitive, regardless of who occupies the White House. By introducing this bill, I am fighting for our family farmers during this trade war and any future ones.

Through the incredible food and feed thewy export, Delaware’s growers act as ambassadors of the United States. Around the globe, people may not interact with our government directly, but through food, millions get the opportunity to taste what America has to offer. When we help feed the world, we showcase our rich farmland and the men and women whose hard work went into planting, growing, and harvesting our bountiful agricultural products.

We should all be proud of what our farmers produce, and that’s why we cannot accept that they become collateral damage in trade wars.

An old proverb tells us, “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar,” and it holds true for trade. If we engage all our allies and forge productive trade partnerships, we can create U.S. jobs, support our agricultural exporters, and be tough on bad actors in not just word but deed.

Lisa Blunt Rochester is Delaware’s representative in the United States Congress.

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