Commentary- NAFTA a boon to Kansas farmers

For 14 years the North American Free Trade Agree?ment has been a boon for the United States and its agricultural producers, especially those in Kansas.

Kansas farmers and ranchers have experienced unprecedented gains in trade with Canada and Mexico as a result of this comprehensive trade agreement that came into play 14 years ago.

Overall trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico has grown from $297 billion in 1993 to $883 billion in 2006. This is an increase of 198 percent. U.S. goods exports to Canada and Mexico grew from $142 billion in 1993 to $364.6 billion in 2006, an increase of 157 percent.

?NAFTA has been great for U.S. agriculture, Kansas agriculture and our state,? says Steve Baccus, an Ottawa County farmer, who serves as president of Kansas Farm Bureau president. ?Most of agriculture has been basking in its glow.?

As evidence of this trade partnership, Kansas agricultural producers have seen their soybean exports to Mexico double. Beef volumes are five times what they were in 1993. Corn volume has increased 18 times since the beginning of NAFTA.

Trade with Canada is also bustling. Kansas soybeans imported by Canada increased 15 percent, beef volumes are up 26 percent and corn has increased 125 percent.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is a comprehensive trade agreement that continues to improve virtually all aspects of doing business among Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Since the NAFTA agreement began Jan. 1, 1994, Mexico immediately eliminated tariffs on nearly 50 percent of all industrial goods imported from the United States. Many non-tariff barriers were also removed.

Virtually all tariffs on industrial goods were eliminated by 2003 and tariffs on U.S. exports of certain agricultural products to Mexico will be phased out on Jan. 1.

With the exception of tariff rate quotas on certain supply-managed agricultural products, all Canada-U.S. trade has been duty free since 1998. Canada and Mexico are the first and second largest export markets for U.S. goods.

Today, the United States and much of the rest of the world are engaged in global trading. In this country nearly 96 percent of the mouths U.S. agriculture feeds are outside the borders. Nearly everything we buy has been assembled with parts from dozens of countries.

It?s a global world today?s citizens live in. And in this world, trade remains the engine that drives our nation and many of its industries, including agriculture.

?If we were to shut off trade, including our NAFTA agreement, trade with Peru and the Caribbean, Japan, China and the rest of the countries around the world, then at least half of us in agriculture are going to have to hang it up,? Baccus says. ?It is critical that we continue opening markets for our products, while reaching out to new trading partners.?

There is no sign of this global trading slowing down. Chances are it will continue to grow and do so rapidly.

Crops grown in the United States, Canada, South America and other parts of the world will also continue to increase. With continued advancements in crops including GMOs, drought resistant varieties and water optimization technology, yields in this country and around the world will continue to increase. So too will the opportunity to market such crops, not only in this country but globally.

The increasing opportunities for Kansas and U.S. producers are not without critics. Citing labor standards and living conditions for workers, Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.), announced on a Topeka radio program recently that she is introducing legislation to significantly alter, or remove the United States from, the NAFTA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Kansas Farm Bureau met with Rep. Boyda last week to discuss the issue, bringing to light the positive results for agriculture of this and other trade agreements, such as the Peru trade agreement overwhelmingly passed by Con?gress.

?We were able to have a candid and frank discussion with our congresswoman on the importance of keeping this crucial trade agreement viable,? Baccus says. ?Unfortunately, Rep. Boyda sees this differently than our farmer-rancher members. We will continue to talk with her on this issue and try to work out our differences.?

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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