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Views and opinions: Administration is failing to tap into dairy’s potential for trade

By John Holevoet

When it comes to global trade, many in the American agricultural community feel like they are being passed by as the rest of the world advances with new trade agreements.

Given that agricultural exports are often one of the brightest points on our trade balance sheets, not helping us reach new markets or more fully develop existing ones feels like pulling your star quarterback out of the game when you’re still down.

Edge and other ag groups have not sat quietly on the sidelines. We have been arguing that the United States needs to be more forceful in pressing for markets for dairy and other ag exports. This is the lobbying equivalent of the player saying, “Put me back in, Coach.”

The Trump administration is focused on reducing imbalances in trade. The strength of our ag sector makes us one of the best ways to combat trade deficits, but we need to be given the chance.

Edge favors freer and fairer trade wherever possible. Based on his past work, we know that current U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is skeptical about the benefits of free trade. It is also apparent from past trade agreements that people can both benefit and be harmed by free trade.

American agriculture has most definitely been a big winner from free trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement, United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and others have dramatically increased dairy and ag exports.

Having acknowledged that some parts of the economy are hurt by these same agreements, it would be callous to argue that we want more free trade agreements because we benefit from them, and damn the consequences faced by others. Instead, we argue for more free trade agreements because we believe that overall free trade has been beneficial to both the U.S. and the world economies.

Also – and maybe more importantly – we argue for our increased involvement in free trade because that is where the world is heading, whether we like it or not. We might be off the field, but the game is still being played.

In early February, Japan and the European Union inaugurated what they call the “largest open trade zone in the world.” The new treatment that European exports will receive in Japan will disadvantage those from America, including various U.S. agricultural products.

If we would have stayed a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we would have been able to ink a deal that included the Japanese market before the Europeans. Instead, we pulled out and the agreement went on without us.

Global trade is complicated. It may not be fair to reduce it to a sports metaphor, but the reality is that free trade and all the gamesmanship that comes with negotiating it are not reversible. It is not even slowing down.

The only question is, are we going to play the game or not?


John Holevoet is Director of Government Affairs for Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative based in Green Bay, Wis., which provides dairy farmers in eight Midwest states with a powerful voice in Congress, with customers, and within their communities. Under the Federal Milk Marketing Orders, the co-op also provides milk testing verification services and market information.