Speaking with AgriTalk Radio’s Mike Adams this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the Obama Administration’s record on trade, estate taxes and other issues of interest to farmers and ranchers. We also have summarized a similar interview with Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of Farmers for Romney, making his case for the election of Republican challenger Mitt Romney on the same issues.
Regarding trade, Vilsack says the United States has had four years of our best ag exports in history, setting a record last year. He expects another record this year and a good year in 2013. The administration is working on additional free-trade agreements, on agreements with Russia through the World Trade Organization and to remove trade barriers for U.S. products in countries including China, Mexico and Japan. The Administration also is pushing for ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would open markets in Southeast Asia. In a second Obama term, Vilsack expects a continuation of these efforts to promote trade for U.S. food and agricultural products. He notes, though, that the Administration needs cooperation from the House of Representatives, particularly in passing a new farm bill, to provide the tools for expanded agricultural trade.
In response to a question about the TPP, Vilsack says the President demonstrated toughness in negotiating free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia to secure stronger deals. The administration is not going to enter any agreement that puts the United States at a disadvantage, he adds. As far as countries entering the TPP, he says the agreement will include threshold requirements to abide by science-based, rules-based standards. Vilsack says he strongly believes the United States can compete with any country in the world in the production and export of agricultural products. He stressed the need for enforcement of trade agreements, saying the administration has introduced new enforcement tools and has stood up to China on trade issues more than past administrations.
Regarding young and beginning farmers, Vilsack says the administration strongly encouraged the Senate to include mechanisms and resources for beginning-farmer programs in their version of the farm bill, providing technical assistance in developing business and risk-management plans. The administration also has made credit more available, with the majority of Farm Service Agency loans going to beginning farmers and ranchers. They also introduced a new micro-loan program providing $35,000 for seven years at low interest to help beginning farmers get started with capital investments. He also says the administration is encouraging congress to fix the estate tax and provide tax-code incentives to help young people get into farming and ranching, and he touted the administration’s efforts in building local and regional food systems, largely to the benefit of smaller producers.