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John Block: Trade Worries

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Worries about our ag trade are escalating. Farmers are desperate. We export more than a quarter of what we produce. Farm prices are in the tank. Any wrong move that would cause us to lose markets would be a devastating blow.

President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That includes Mexico and Canada, two of our largest markets. Renegotiating that agreement is in the process now.

The five-year-old Trade Agreement with South Korea (KORUS) is to be renegotiated also. South Korea is another big market for agriculture. Agriculture has a positive balance of trade with all of these countries. However, when it comes to manufacturing and other goods, the U.S. balance of trade is negative.

Yes, there are things that need to be fixed, but when negotiations focus on agriculture – do no harm. The concern in farm country has elevated to a new level.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has brought aboard Max Baucus and Richard Lugar, two highly respected former Senators, to form a new group – Farmers for Free Trade. That group will seek to mobilize farmers nationwide to support trade agreements and protect agriculture’s interests.

Since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), we are scrambling to protect our interests in those countries.

Agriculture and rural America played a big role in electing President Trump. We have been delighted with many things that he has done in less than a year. The Trump Administration has initiated the process of repeal of “Waters of the U.S.” Farmers don’t need the federal government telling us what we do every time we plow a field. The President has axed hundreds of overreach regulations put in place by the Obama Administration.

U.S. ag exports, after 11 months, are $20 billion in the black. We project a $23.6 billion surplus for the year. We want to build on that. A trade war could be very costly to our industry. That’s why we can’t sit quietly and watch. Our voices need to be heard.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit