Danielle A Martin , Visalia Times-Delta
When President Donald Trump signed away the Trans-Pacific Partnership, local farmers and agriculture partners watched their hopes of easier trading disappear.
In a nutshell, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a multi-country trade treaty which includes 12 countries with a Pacific Ocean border.
It allows countries to further economic activity with reduced tariffs making free trade easier. It also allows relationships to develop between the countries.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the trade deal allowed local growers to reach more customers in Pacific Rim markets.
Tricia Stevers executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau said she wasn’t an expert on the topic of trade was but did say pulling out of the TPP didn’t come as a surprise.
“The TPP does have some effect on the Central Valley farmers, but we expected it,” Stevers said.
Farmers who grow fruits and nuts including walnuts, pistachios, almonds, stone fruit and citrus will be hit by the withdraw.
California Citrus Mutual, whose 2,500 members represent 75 percent of California’s 270,000 citrus acres, showed their disappointment in Trump’s actions.
“The President has been unapologetically opposed to TPP since early in his campaign,” said California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “So it comes as no surprise that he has officially withdrawn the U.S. from the proposed trade agreement, despite its clear and obvious benefit to the California citrus industry and broader U.S. agricultural sector.”
The citrus industry makes up about $3.3 billion in agriculture sales.
A report given by the California Department of Food and Agriculture forecast a production of 84 million cartons of Navel oranges for the 2016-2017 season. Of the total navel orange forecast, 81 million cartons are estimated to be from the Central Valley.
The trade benefits citrus growers by allowing an immediate elimination of tariffs on citrus exports to Vietnam and a lessened tariff to other Pacific rim countries including Japan – which is a leading importer of California citrus, Nelsen said.
The CCM reports international exports make up approximately $850 million of the industries total sales and 30 percent of total revenue.
Before President Trump was sworn into office, producers knew his stance on making trade favorable on a large scale. Nelsen said it’s understandable.
“He’s the president of the United States, not the president of the California Citrus industry,” Neslen said. “He wants to satisfy the most sectors as possible.”
As president of the CCM and a member of the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables, Nelsen will work tirelessly to address the concerns of the farmers to the Presidential administration.
His goal is to find alternative trade opportunities for the citrus industry and express its importance to the President on behalf of the growers.
The farm bureau will do the same.
“We operate in a world where it’s much easier for crops from other nations to enter the U.S. than for American farm goods to be sold elsewhere,” Wenger said. “We will encourage the administration to work on smaller-scale agreements that would allow American farmers to trade with other nations on an equal basis.”
The North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico is one option for foreign markets.
“If NAFTA is reopened, its agricultural provisions should be left alone,” Wenger said. “We don’t want successful agricultural trade to be caught in any conflict about other portions of the agreement.”
Doug Mederos a Tulare farmer, said the deal helped some but there were a lot of people against the TPP to begin with. He is hopeful Trump’s agenda will bring alternative opportunities for trade that are in favor of American farmers.
“We’ll have to wait and see what kind of deal he has next,” said Mederos, who grows pistachios, almonds and cotton that is traded around the world. “We’d like to get in as many markets as we can.”
Nelsen said regardless of the specific trade deals, farmers can be hopeful the demand for citrus in foreign countries is still relevant.
“The trade isn’t going anywhere and the family farmer can continue to produce,” Nelsen said. “We’re just going to have to work a little harder and a little longer to keep the sustainability.”