Vilsack, Axne and Tai address trade concerns at stakeholder roundtable
Inside a tidy machinery shed on a family farm in central Iowa, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Representative Cindy Axne heard more a dozen representatives from Iowa’s agriculture and biofuels sectors at a roundtable discussion Thursday morning. .
The collective message was clear: Do everything you can to open up business opportunities.
American trade with Mexico
One of the main concerns discussed is Mexico’s hostility to corn biotechnology.
“Our freedom to operate is our freedom to innovate, and that’s the strength of American agriculture,” said Bob Haus, government relations manager at Corteva Agricscience.
Haus called the regulatory environment in Mexico “non-functional” and said 14 different Corteva seed traits were denied approval.
Mexico is currently one of the top importers of U.S. corn, absorbing nearly 17 million tons in 2021. In late 2020, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued an executive order to phase out genetically modified corn for consumption by 2024 and fears that this could also apply to maize used for animal feed.
Stakeholders at the roundtable urged Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Tai to protect the Mexican market for U.S. corn.
“We value our business relationship with Mexico and believe we have strong growth momentum,” said Lance Lillibridge, a farmer from Vinton, Iowa, who participated in the roundtable.
Secretary Vilsack reassured the group that he had frequent correspondence with officials in Mexico. He says the issue comes down to President López Orador’s desire to support Mexico’s small farmers and defend Mexico’s heritage, which includes being the birthplace of white corn.
“I pointed out to the president that he is also deeply concerned about the people of his country, especially those living on fixed incomes or low incomes, and if he does not see the value in our yellow corn and our biotech yellow corn coming into the country to feed livestock, it’s going to have higher feed prices,” Vilsack says. “It made an impression on him.”
Vilsack says conversations are continuing around rejected biotech traits and ensuring the market remains open in the United States
Soaring input costs
Another recurring theme throughout the roundtable was the burden of rising input costs. Lillibridge noted that its input costs have increased by 325% and become “unsustainable”.
Daniel Heady, national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, says not a day goes by that he doesn’t hear about the costs of inputs like fertilizer. The United States currently has tariffs on phosphate fertilizers from Morocco and Russia.
“We’re all in favor of American construction and local production of agricultural inputs, but it takes time and a lot of money,” he says. “Until we can get to that, we really need to allow the free flow of agricultural products around the world.”
Secretary Vilsack teased upcoming announcements of USDA support for domestic fertilizer production to help ease the pain farmers are feeling. He also highlighted the administration’s efforts to increase farmers’ incomes by expanding business opportunities.
Ambassador Tai says she recognizes the “short-term stresses” farmers are experiencing, but points to the transition the Biden administration is trying to make for the long-term good of the nation.
“As we move towards a more resilient economy, a global economy, there is a transition that we have to go through,” she says. “We can’t just flip a switch and change the course of 20, 30, 40 years of trade policy.”