International trade turmoil worries Idaho agriculture leaders

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) There’s a growing fear among many growers in Idaho. It’s a fear over international trade.

“It should make all of us nervous,” said Stacey Satterlee.

Satterlee is the executive director for the Idaho Grain Producers Association. She and other wheat and barley advocates just returned from Washington D.C. to explain their worry about what turmoil with international trade deals could mean for Idaho.

“One of the key points we carried on Capitol Hill was the critical nature of international trade to agriculture in Idaho,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee said that each year Idaho sends about 50 percent of its total agriculture exports to Mexico and Canada. The country directly north is actually Idaho’s top export, with 25 percent of the Gem State’s total exports heading there in 2016.

Mexico came in second receiving 24 percent of Idaho’s exports. Malt is Idaho’s number one export to Mexico.

Idaho exports half of its wheat, the other half stays in the country. In 2014 the United States exported $2.5 billion of wheat and wheat products to countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership region, so countries like Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Satterlee said she’s worried about losing that region of the world with exports. Last year President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP. While Idaho hasn’t seen negative impacts yet, she’s worried we will.

“We’re being left behind,” Satterlee said. “Because countries are negotiating trade agreements, other countries are moving forward with the TPP and the United States are not part of those conversations.”

Satterlee said if there isn’t a trade agreement between the U.S. and that region those buyers could look elsewhere.

President Trump has talked about bilaterals between individual countries, something Satterlee can get behind.

“We support bilaterals. The only problem with bilaterals is that they take a long time,” Satterlee said.

Time is something they might not have. If the administration holds out longer, and buyers find their grains somewhere else, there would be a huge surplus of crops in the U.S.

“That drives prices down and they’re already pretty low,” Satterlee said.

Wayne Hurst doesn’t like that idea. He’s farmed in the Mini-Cassia area for nearly 40 years. He’s a past president of the Idaho Grain Producers and he’s the chairman-elect of the National Wheat Foundation.

Hurst joined Satterlee and other trade advocates last week at the Capitol. He said if there’s a trade dispute, his industry will feel it first.

“When there are trade wars, agriculture is always the first casualty,” Hurst said.

Hurst said the lawmakers they talked with were sympathetic to Idaho’s stance on trade. Hurst, Satterlee and other growers emphasized that they need a spot in an agreement, regardless of if it gets negotiated.

“It would be best if we could go ahead and have TPP in place with our trading partners like Japan,” Hurst said.

It’s not just the TPP though. Idaho agriculture workers are worried about the North American Free Trade Agreement, especially with the president threatening to pull out of it.

“We’re watching that one exceptionally closely,” said Rick Naerebout, the CEO of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. “Mexico is our biggest partner both for Idaho dairy, but also U.S. dairy. So market access is a key factor.”

Naerebout said the Dairymen’s Association was disappointed to see the administration pull out of the TPP, but NAFTA is their bigger concern. Particularly with the southern part of the agreement.

“They need our dairy products, and we need their demand, so it’s a good fit,” Naerebout said.

There are aspects Naerebout said could be renegotiated with NAFTA. He said he’d like to see additional access in Canada and seeing the country coming toward World Trade Organization compliance with its dairy. However, while he’d like to see the agreement updated, he doesn’t want it to go away.

“We just wouldn’t want to see the entire agreement shelved or set aside over politics,” Naerebout said.

For the dairy industry, that would be very damaging. Naerebout said that like wheat and barley, it would create a huge surplus in the industry, which would depress the prices and cost dairies money.

Like Hurst, Naerebout said when it comes to trade negotiations agriculture is often the first industry hit.

So when Hurst sees international arguments over trade, he knows it will get back to him and other farmers in the Magic Valley.

“They’re talking about potentially impacting my ability to produce and to compete on a world-wide basis, and to be successful and survive. Not just this year, but well into the future,” Hurst said. “We need trade agreements that allow us to compete.”

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