Arkansas farmers, politicians welcome new trade deal

Arkansas farmers, politicians welcome new trade deal
Written by: Frank Lockwood
Published by: NW Arkansas Democrat Gazette

WASHINGTON — Arkansas farmers and politicians Monday welcomed news of a new trade agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico, saying closer commercial ties are good for the state’s economy.

While eager to review the complete text of the agreement, they expressed confidence that the deal will prove beneficial, especially for those who till the soil.

“This will be a really good important shot in the arm for agriculture in the state of Arkansas,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach.

The nation’s two North American Free Trade Agreement partners were also Arkansas’ two biggest foreign markets last year.

Of the state’s $6.3 billion in exports, more than $2.1 billion — nearly 34 percent — went north and south of the U.S. borders in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

For Arkansas’ farmers, the importance of NAFTA is even more pronounced.

Twenty-six percent of all Arkansas agriculture exports went to Mexico last year, and 18 percent went to Canada, the Arkansas World Trade Center has said, citing Census Bureau and Canadian government studies.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau, which had stressed the importance of continued trade, said its members welcome the breakthrough.

Commodity prices had fallen in recent months with the threat of a trade war looming.

“These markets have really reacted to this uncertainty,” Veach said.While China and the U.S. still have unresolved issues, overall anxiety levels are likely to drop, the longtime Mississippi County farmer said.

“We’ve got to have some stability to stabilize this market. That’s the only way we’re going to get some improvement in the market,” he added.

When it comes to Arkansas agriculture exports, rice led the field in 2017, followed by chicken (fresh and frozen) and fertilized chicken eggs.

But growers of cotton and other commodities are also affected.

In a written statement late Monday afternoon, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement “good news for Arkansans and Arkansas farmers.”

“While I am still studying many of the details, this is a victory for American workers and President [Donald] Trump,” Hutchinson said. “I have consistently said that the first goal of these negotiations should be to ‘do no harm,’ and I am pleased that tariffs on agricultural products traded between the United States and Mexico will remain at zero.”

Although many Arkansans emphasized the impact on agriculture, manufacturers were also expressing optimism.

Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, issued a joint statement with his Canadian counterpart calling the deal “excellent news for the recreational boating industry and countless others that rely on the free flow of goods in North America.”

Bill Yeargin, chief executive officer of Correct Craft, which owns SeaArk Boats in Monticello and Bass Cat and Yar-Craft in Mountain Home, wrote in August that the company didn’t want to be “in the crosshairs of a trade war.”

Dammrich and his Canadian counterpart echoed that sentiment Monday.

With a new trade deal in place, it’s time to lift U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel imports and the retaliatory tariffs that followed, the joint statement said.

“Negotiators should seize the opportunity and immediately resolve this issue,” they wrote.

On Capitol Hill and around the nation, lawmakers portrayed the deal in positive terms.

“This is good for America’s farmers. They’ve been very anxious about if and when we’d get a deal,” U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said in a text message.

“This won’t fix all that ails the Ag economy right now, but it’s welcome news that will help provide some much needed certainty going forward,” the Republican from Jonesboro stated.

Other members of the Arkansas delegation issued written statements welcoming the development.

“The announcement that a trade agreement has been reached with Canada and Mexico is very promising news and creates a sense of certainty for Arkansas’s manufacturers, small businesses and agriculture industry,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Rogers. “America can compete with any nation in the world when the playing field is level. I welcome this announcement and look forward to reviewing the details of the agreement in depth to ensure it can achieve that goal.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack predicted Americans would benefit.

“By standing up for U.S. workers and negotiating from strength, the administration has secured a new trade agreement that will further advance America’s interests and priorities. This pact will help level the playing field for Arkansas’s agriculture and business economies, creating freer and fairer markets with some of our most vital trading partners,” the Republican from Rogers said.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman predicted the deal would protect U.S. jobs and praised the president for showing leadership and keeping a key campaign promise.

“The agreement supports agriculture, manufacturing, and emerging fields in our evolving 21st Century economy in a way that has not been done before. It sets out clear rules on wages, acceptance of American agricultural goods, and more in a way that drives economic development here at home and encourages trade with our largest economic partners,” the Republican from Hot Springs said.

U.S. Rep. French Hill said he was pleased that an agreement had been reached and that it included a mechanism for resolving disputes.

“I look forward to studying the text of the results of the collective hard work of the negotiators,” the Republican from Little Rock said.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said the agreement appears to be a positive development, but that the Republican lawmaker from Dardanelle is still reviewing it.

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