Recent U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus (D., Mont.), along with former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), announced the formation of Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan nonprofit focused on driving global competitiveness for the U.S. agriculture industry.
As co-chairs, Baucus and Lugar plan to build a grassroots powerhouse that informs, mobilizes and amplifies the voice of U.S. farmers and ranchers who depend on worldwide markets.
“This is about U.S. leadership not just across all 50 states but beyond,” Baucus said. “The U.S. food and agriculture community recognizes that our farmers and ranchers are supported by, and benefit from, the highly integrated, cross-border supply chains that make up the agriculture and food processing industries as well as serve customers around the globe.”
In 2016, the U.S. agriculture industry exported $129 billion worth of products and has a projected trade surplus of $20 billion in 2017. While the industry relies first and foremost on U.S. customers, global markets are critically important as well. America exports 50% of all major commodity crops, including corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as 70% of fruit nuts and 25% of pork. Additionally, exports account for 20% of all U.S. farm revenue and depend on strong relations with key trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, China and Japan.
“Farming is still the backbone of our economy and the shining star of U.S. export growth; we need to keep it healthy and strong,” said Sara Lilygren, chair of the Farmers for Free Trade board of directors. “That’s why Farmers for Free Trade wants to ensure agriculture is top of mind as decisions are made respecting our industry’s economic, political and business skills.”
“We’re talking about supporting good American jobs — from growers, harvesters, processors and packagers to multimodal transportation providers, including grain elevator operators, railroad workers, truck drivers and port operators,” Lugar said. “A strong and healthy agriculture industry has a multiplier effect on the secondary and tertiary jobs it creates in rural communities.”
With the U.S. withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and announcing talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, and with global competitors aggressively filling the void, U.S. farmers are already experiencing disruptions resulting from market turmoil.
“The time is now for the U.S. agriculture industry to speak out early and often — very, very forcibly – to ensure farmers and ranchers are not thrown under the bus as we renegotiate agriculture’s most important trade agreements and as we set the tone for countless additional trade discussions in the years to come,” Baucus said. “Sen. Lugar and I agree that America must be a forceful leader in promoting fair and free trade around the globe, and I know we’re going to make a great team.”
Baucus served in the U.S. Senate for six terms before being tapped by President Barack Obama to represent the U.S. as ambassador to China -- a post he held from 2014 to 2017. As ambassador and, prior to that, as chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Baucus was a staunch advocate for American agriculture in all trade negotiations.
Lugar represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2013, serving as chairman of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee. He is president and chief executive officer of the Lugar Center, which seeks to improve global food security, bipartisan governance and nuclear security. He also manages his family’s 604-acre corn, soybean and tree farm in Indiana.
As chairman of the board of directors, Lilygren brings more than 37 years of expertise in food and agriculture advocacy, including 20 years with the meat and processed food industry and non-governmental organizations as well as 15 years leading global corporate affairs for Tyson Foods. Lilygren’s first-hand experience with numerous market access and trade policy challenges facing U.S. farmers and ranchers since the mid-1980s make her well suited for this leadership role.