Trade Agreements a Big Deal, or Big Politics?

Panamax TankerTrade is a pretty common topic in agriculture. Because exports play a significant role in the bottom lines of farmers producing many different commodities, and because the policies of our trading partners and competitors can affect our ability to do business overseas, farmers are understandably interested in issues of trade around the globe.

As it turns out, trade is one of my interests, too, both as a reporter, and recently as a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics and in the John Glenn School of Public Policy at The Ohio State University.

My grad program is a dual-Master’s study involving agricultural economics and public administration, as my interests center on farm policy, broadly defined. This quarter, in addition to basic public policy course, I am thoroughly enjoying an economics course with Dr. Ian Sheldon, the Andersons Professor of International Trade at Ohio State.

In our discussions last week, I mentioned I’d seen a press release that Ohio was hosting a trade delegation from Taiwan interested in purchasing Ohio corn and soybeans.

As part of my work, I write about production agriculture issues for the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Ohio State University Extension, so I sat down with Dr. Sheldon to discuss the impact of trade on farmers in Ohio.

That story discussed the broad implications of trade in corn and soybeans, and also shared who some of Ohio’s top customers are in terms of export value.

The story for OSU prompted a call to Dr. Sheldon from a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch, and their conversation led to an editorial in the paper Monday. Largely discussing the politics of trade, the columnist made much of the differences between political ideologies when it comes to trade issues.

Sheldon and I will talk more as the quarter proceeds about the various and varying impacts of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, but suffice it to say that politics, policy and economics are not necessarily in lock-step on this issue. For starters, Sheldon says he holds out a great deal more hope for the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization negotiations than I might have done myself prior to our conversation.

Trade is not a small issue in agricultural policy circles, with numerous groups, including the National Corn Growers and American Soybean Associations, applauding President Obama for sending the pending Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for consideration.

That action has been awaited and advocated by farm policy interests for some time. The agreements have, by and large, been waiting on White House action since the previous administration. Congress could not act upon them until the President formally sent them to Capitol Hill for consideration.

What does trade mean to you? If comments I’ve received previously on export-related stories are any indication, trade is a mixed bag in terms of public perception in light of the current economic situation across the country.

What are your thoughts? I look forward to your comments, below.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at BeefProducer.com. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

One Response to “Trade Agreements a Big Deal, or Big Politics?”

  1. First, trade is absolutely vital to U.S. agriculture. Unlike some goods, people can only consume so much food, regardless of income. This has a little to do with Engel’s Law, which I am sure Andy is learning a thing or two about at OSU. If the U.S. agricultural economy was tied only to population growth in America, the industry would grow very, very slowly. Therefore, expanding to and forming partnerships with emerging markets keeps the tractor tires turning, so to speak.

    Where I do have concerns, is when we trade subsidized commodities on the world market. Often, the world price is artificially low because of government intervention in U.S. and E.U. agriculture. This might be good for our farmers, but farmers who happen to be born in a poor country are priced out of the market. I’m for free trade, so long as it is fair.