WOODWARD, Iowa — The United States could take international trade actions that could have an immediate impact on farmers’ operating costs and available markets for their crops, but the Biden administration has opted for a longer-term strategy , one of the main emissaries of the country. said Thursday during a trip to a farm in central Iowa.

“As we move towards a more resilient economy and a global economy, there is a transition that we have to go through,” said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. “We can’t just flip the switch and change the course of 20, 30, 40 years of trade policy. … If we know where we are trying to go, we have to allow the changes that take time to be made.

His remarks were part of a visit to the Spellman family farm south of Woodward, during which Tai, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, met with representatives from more of a dozen agricultural groups.

The trio have been pressed by some of the representatives to reduce tariffs on imported fertilizers, to demand more accurate labeling that identifies the true origin of processed beef and to adopt free trade agreements to expand the markets available for agricultural exports from Iowa.

“Exports literally make the difference between profit or not on all of our farms,” ​​said Craig Floss, general manager of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, noting that about a quarter of the state’s corn is used in products. exported.

But Tai warned that trade agreements must be balanced to ensure fairness between different sectors of the country’s economy.

“Free trade and globalization have definitely increased over time, and some sectors have gained more than others,” Tai said. Later, she added, “It’s not just free trade because we have to look at fair trade.”

But she touted some trade advancements over the past year that have been a boon for meat and potato producers. India allowed imports of American pork for the first time, Vietnam reduced its tariffs on American pork, Japan increased its beef imports and Mexico ended a decades-long ban on American fresh potatoes.

Will Mexico end imports of genetically modified corn?

It is unclear whether Mexico will end imports of genetically modified American corn in 2024, as decreed almost two years ago by its populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Vilsack downplayed this potential cessation and called it a product of politics and the country’s white corn pride.

“For him, it’s a matter of Mexican pride; it’s about Mexican heritage,” Vilsack said. “It’s about protecting something that’s unique to them and is literally part of their identity, so I get that.”

A farm in Amelia County. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

However, Mexico is a major importer of US corn, and such a move could be detrimental to both countries.

Vilsack said he warned López Obrador about rising food prices.

Beef labeling decision pending

On beef labeling, Vilsack said he was awaiting the results of a survey to determine whether consumers know what “Product of USA” means when meat is labeled that way, and whether it affects their purchase choice.

The issue has long been a point of contention for domestic cattle producers, as beef and pork that are not raised in the United States have been allowed to carry the label if processed in the country. The practice was restricted by decree last year, but cattle ranchers have pushed for mandatory labeling that identifies the country of origin of the meat.

“If there is going to be a label about the original source, it needs to be verified by a third party,” said Cora Fox, director of government relations for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

Tai resists calls to end fertilizer tariffs

Tai also resisted calls for an end to tariffs on certain fertilizers to help alleviate high operating costs for farmers at the moment, saying they can be an important tool to ‘level the playing field’ of trade. . Ending tariffs has been a common demand from some farm groups and Midwestern Republicans.

“Existing fertilizer tariffs are nothing more than a tax on our farmers,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in a news release early Thursday ahead of the trade talk near Woodward. “They are hampering their ability to source the essential nutrients needed to meet growing demand.”

At the heart of this demand is an import duty on Moroccan phosphate fertilizers that was imposed at the behest of the country’s largest fertilizer producer, who claimed the foreign product was unfairly subsidized. It’s unclear how much an elimination of that 20% tariff might affect prices, but some farmers are eager for any cuts.

“My farm costs have gone up about 325%,” said Lance Lillibridge, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “It’s getting unbearable”

Vilsack said the Biden administration is focused on boosting domestic fertilizer production to help protect the country’s farmers from supply shortages and high prices that followed Ukraine’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia earlier this year. He said announcements are forthcoming regarding infrastructure investments.

This story first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication to The Mercury within the States Newsroom network.

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