Opinion Columns & Blogs

He oversees nation’s farm policy and he has bone to pick with UGA trade deal study

The University of Georgia recently published a study claiming the new United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement would cost some Georgia vegetable and fruit growers revenue and jobs. The sensational assertions are flat wrong. As a proud UGA alumnus, I’m here to tell you USMCA is good for Georgia’s farmers and all American agriculture.

Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, USMCA improves virtually every component of NAFTA and Georgia’s agriculture industry stands to gain significantly. It’s important to note we didn’t get all the improvements we wanted for seasonal fruits and vegetables. While we were hopeful we could make progress in the renewed NAFTA, USMCA isn’t a step backward. The UGA study assumed we lost ground, but the facts are it wasn’t ground we had to begin with. Since the inception of NAFTA more than 20 years ago, agricultural trade between our three countries has boomed. U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico increased by about 300% and our imports increased by almost 500%, benefiting producers and consumers on both sides of our borders.

The premise for UGA’s study is USMCA will not protect Georgia farmers from cheap Mexican fruits and vegetables. Because of that, the researchers came up with imagined scenarios in which they say a set of fruit and vegetable farmers would be vulnerable to competition. They neglect to mention farmers already face such competition under NAFTA. And they overlook the ways the Administration is fighting for a level playing field in the seasonal fruit and vegetable market.

Let me give you some real data on Georgia’s agricultural output. Over the past 10 years under NAFTA, Georgia growers have seen vegetable sales increase by more than 23%, fruit and nut sales have gone up more than 100% and crop receipts have gone up more than 50%. Farm income in Georgia grew by more than 20% during that period. From USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture: blueberry harvested acres increased by 37%, pepper acreage increased 157% and eggplant acreage increased by 45%. While fresh cucumber and tomato acreage decreased 8% for each crop, those changes are nowhere near the assumed damages by the UGA researchers. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable that my fellow Georgians would switch to crops that provide higher levels of profit. That is the beauty of our agricultural system – producers plant for the market, not for the program.

USMCA benefits Georgia’s entire agricultural industry. By ensuring better market access and solidifying commitments to fair and science-based trade rules with our top trading partners, USMCA is a big win. For the first time, trading rules specifically address agricultural biotechnology to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies. Poultry producers have new access to Canada for chicken and eggs, and expanded access for turkey. Corn growers maintain duty-free access to Mexico, which is the top market for U.S. corn. USMCA updates rules of origin for processed fruits to ensure preferences benefit U.S. producers.

On my first day as secretary, President Donald Trump promised he’d fight for better deals for American farmers – USMCA is proof of that. Our farmers, ranchers, and producers have an abundance of the highest quality products they want to sell around the globe. President Trump is laying the foundation for a stronger farm economy through USMCA and other fair trade deals. When President Trump first mentioned the possibility of withdrawing from NAFTA, the universal hue and cry from agriculture was “do no harm.” Not only has he done that, USMCA is a better agreement than NAFTA on almost every front.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is a former governor of Georgia.

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