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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on the Agricultural Trade

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 “Perspectives on U.S. Agricultural Trade.”

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


Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing to discuss one of the most pressing issues facing agriculture.

Ambassador Doud, Under Secretary McKinney, and Dr. Johansson, welcome and thank you for being here.

As all of us know, our farmers are no stranger to uncertainty. They experience it every day when they check the weather forecast, when they look at the markets, and when their crops are challenged by invasive pests or disease.

On top of all this, there are now many unknowns around agricultural exports and trade. Mr. Chairman, you and I have worked together on this issue, as leaders at this table and as senior members on the Finance Committee.

Ahead of this hearing, I had a call with agriculture leaders from across Michigan to hear directly from them. I heard loud and clear that our farmers need markets in order to be successful.

Agricultural exports add over $8.4 billion to the U.S. economy each year, while supporting more than 1 million American jobs on and off the farm. We recognized this in the Senate Farm Bill by providing permanent, expanded investments for critical trade promotion initiatives that open new markets to American grown agricultural products.

This kind of long-term market development has helped Michigan-grown crops like cherries and navy beans make it onto plates all across the world. However, retaliatory tariffs are putting these trading relationships in jeopardy.

It’s estimated that American dairy farmers will take a $1.5 billion hit this year due to tariffs imposed by Mexico and China. That’s on top of the $40 million that Michigan dairies lost in income last year due to Canada’s unfair Class 7 pricing system.

Our farmers are also feeling the impact indirectly. When Washington State can no longer ship apples to China – it makes it harder for Michigan apple growers to compete here at home.

To address the impact of the tariffs, the Administration has proposed up to $12 billion in emergency aid for some farmers affected. The reaction from many of the farmers I have spoken with is that they want trade not aid.

While I look forward to hearing more about the details and methodology behind this package, we must acknowledge that temporary solutions will only go so far.

We need to be mindful of the long-term impacts for agriculture. Producers in my state are concerned that current and future Administration actions could result in agriculture permanently losing important trading partners.

I agree that we need strong, meaningful trade enforcement when countries like China break the rules. I also agree that it makes sense to update NAFTA -- a lot has changed since its inception in 1994. There is certainly room for improvement in a number of areas, particularly when it comes to dairy and Canada.

However, all negotiations must be done thoughtfully. Mr. Chairman, you and I have urged the Administration to get it right. American farmers cannot be collateral damage.

There are many actions this Administration can and should take now that will help our farmers with long-term stability, not just short term relief. From trade negotiations that affect exports to stopping unfair competition from imports, I intend to raise several of these issues again today.

The bottom line is that agriculture should not be an afterthought when it comes to trade. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how they are working to ensure our farmers are not left behind.