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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Agricultural Trade Hearing

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Certainty in Global Markets for the U.S. Agriculture Sector.”

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. 

Ambassador Doud, Under Secretary McKinney, and Dr. Johansson, welcome back to our committee room, and thank you for being here today.

Exactly one year ago, we sat around this table and passed our bipartisan Senate Farm Bill out of committee in order to provide certainty and predictability to our farmers and ranchers. Today, however, that certainty is being undermined by this Administration’s chaotic and unpredictable trade agenda. 

It’s no secret that it is a challenging time to be an American farmer. Low prices and poor market conditions continue to plague our agricultural economy. Extreme weather events from tornadoes to bomb cyclones have damaged crops and livestock. Unseasonably cool and rainy weather has made it next to impossible for farmers in Michigan and across the Midwest to get their seeds in the ground for the upcoming crop year.

Facing great unknowns has always been part of life for farmers and ranchers. However, right now we are in uncharted territory.

In the past, agricultural exports have been a bright spot for the economy, supporting more than 1 million American jobs, including over 22,000 jobs in Michigan. Unfortunately, the Administration’s reckless approach to trade has taken a toll on our ability to export agricultural products.

Michigan lost 230 dairy farms last year, the highest percentage of any state, in part because dairy products suddenly faced retaliatory tariffs in some of our most important export markets. Michigan’s dry bean industry lost customers in European markets due to tariffs, while buyers in Mexico are looking for sellers elsewhere because they now view the United States as an unreliable supplier.

Michigan’s tart cherry industry simultaneously has dealt with unfair imports from Turkey and tariffs in China. Meanwhile, the Administration says our cherry growers have not suffered sufficient trade damage to qualify for help.

In addition to the very real impacts we’re seeing today, I’m concerned there will also be long-lasting harm.

Farmers have already spent nearly $1 billion of their own money through checkoffs over the past two decades to establish Chinese markets that are now gone – and may be impossible to rebuild. A short-term trade disruption can create a permanent loss in market share for American farmers. That happened during the Nixon Administration’s ban on soybean exports.

The USDA recently decided to announce a second round of trade assistance that if anything, is adding to the confusion and uncertainty for farmers. While I understand the desire to help farmers weather the Administration’s chaotic trade agenda, the proposed aid is creating more questions than answers.

I have strong concerns that these payments won’t be distributed in an equitable way between regions and crops. The timing of the announcement – combined with widespread prevented planting decisions –could make our farm economy even worse.

Additionally, the Administration’s actions are certainly an unprecedented use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds, which are not guaranteed. That raises some questions for Congress.

Also, it’s outrageous that foreign companies are profiting from assistance that is supposed to be for our farmers. After a Brazilian company received millions in taxpayer dollars, we recently learned that aid has also gone to a Japanese company with a troubling criminal history of corruption and bribery.

The USDA needs to immediately take action to prevent purchases from benefitting our foreign competitors.

While I agree we need to hold countries accountable when they break the rules, this Administration’s strategy on trade has been to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Meanwhile, farmers, businesses, and consumers are being hurt.

Ultimately, our farmers want trade, not aid. They want to build markets, not burn bridges. And they want a thoughtful strategy they can trust, not haphazard proposals announced by tweet.

This uncertainty has gone on long enough.

Ambassador Doud, Under Secretary McKinney, and Dr. Johansson – you were before this committee to discuss this same topic nine months ago to the day, and unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse.

I look forward to hearing from you today on how we can change course.

Thank you.