By JIM MISUNAS
BARTON COUNTY — Rep. Tim Huelskamp would love wheat and other commodities to flow with reduced tariffs to other countries like Keith Miller’s wheat goes seamlessly from Bartlett Grain to Mexico.
Tariffs artificially boost a product’s price to a foreign country, sometimes to protect homegrown business, but often for unknown political reasons. U.S. rice, for instance, carries a 700 percent tariff to Japan. U.S. beef and pork frequently carry a 30 percent tariff. Japan’s imported cars carry a 2.5 percent tariff to the U.S.
Some countries carry lower tariffs for the same product. Australia carries a 19 percent beef tariff to Japan while the U.S. carries a 38.5 percent beef tariff to Japan.
The Senate passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) this week that gives President Barack Obama authority to finalize his trade deals — Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, 12 Asian countries, but not China); Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, two dozen European countries); and Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). The proposed TPA-2015 would apply to trade agreements entered into before July 1, 2018; or before July 1, 2021.
“It’s still a document under negotiation,” Huelskamp said. “We can compete in agriculture if they open it up. We can beat them on price with an even playing field. It’s time to kick open the door and show we’re ready to help feed your nation. There are also non-scientific barriers, often in Europe. There is a whole section on non-scientific barriers, where we’ve made progress.”
With TPA, Congress cannot issue any amendments on a trade deal, but only gets a final pass or fail vote on the final trade deal.
Huelskamp said the input of farmers like Keith Miller of rural Barton County is critical to passing legislation that enables the goal of lower foreign tariffs to be achieved. Huelskamp visited Miller’s farming operation and Bartlett Grain Saturday. Miller said he uses the Bartlett Grain facility as one of the places he ships his grain, which can be sent anywhere in the world. He also regularly ships wheat to local elevators.
“Most people in Washington hear from the traders and exporters,” Huelskamp said. “But it’s guys and gals on the ground like Keith Miller that make a difference. He can translate his cost at the elevator. Keith will tell you that this is good for us. He makes that story real when you hear from real farmers like Keith Miller.”
Miller is a current Kansas Farm Bureau Board member and former chairman of the U.S. Meat Export Federation who has traveled to China, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Canada and Japan to represent American farmers and producers.
“I’m trying to make a difference in agriculture and people’s lives,” Miller said.
High tariffs on goods guarantee higher prices because of the lack of competition. The highest Japanese prime rib is valued at $250 per pound.
“Some of the countries have pretty high tariffs. It’s a trade barrier,” Miller said. “They think they are protecting their people. It keeps our country from shipping to them because it makes our price too high. Markets are getting more world-wide. That’s why we need to get rid of those tariffs. Tariffs raise your domestic price. It’s all self serving because they are stopping our imports from going in. This partnership will cut this way down. The deal they are working on would get that down to 10 to 15 percent.”
Miller said some countries, such as Russia, introduce fictional threats about modern technology that U.S. farmers typically use.
Miller said there is some opposition in the U.S. because of fears that the lowering of foreign tariffs could actually hurt homeland businesses.
“It should put more people to work,” Miller said. “They think it may raise prices here. That’s short sighted.”
Miller said many foreign countries prefer to interact directly with the President rather than working through Congress.
“Those countries will not deal with Congress to make a deal,” Miller said. “We had to get TPA approved to get the negotiations through, and now Congress can say yes or no to the deal. Japan would not deal with Congress.’
Miller harvests several thousand acres of home-owned wheat and harvests wheat for 45 other operations. Miller has averaged hauling in 15 to 20,000 daily bushels of wheat this week.
Miller’s yields have ranged from 30 bushels with a high of 75 bushels per acre. Fields which previously grew alfalfa have exhibited surprising results.
“It’s been a better than average year, the best we’ve had in five years,” Miller said. “Two months ago, I would’ve sold out for 20 bushels per acre. There are a lot factors, the type of soil, land and weather. All of our really good fields have previously grown alfalfa dating back several years. Alfalfa has a tap root that goes down up to 20 feet to get moisture. When you get a recharge (of water), those roots from a tunnel for those roots to go down. You get a better recharge and produces a better yield.”
Huelskamp commented after a positive vote for TPA June 12.
“Trade is critical to our state’s economy, particularly for Kansas agriculture and manufacturing. And nearly every day, I see and hear of brilliant examples of Kansas products being sold across the globe.
“But we can do better for Kansas. For far too long, our producers have been stymied by foreign governments and Washington politics. Whether it is a 252 percent Japanese tariff on wheat, expensive tariffs targeting American beef and pork, a regulatory maze to sell pork into Vietnam, non-scientific trade restrictions and artificial quotas in multiple countries, or a Washington system and Administration that hasn’t broke down these barriers, it is time for Congress to fight for our producers.
“The bipartisan vote in favor of TPA showed strong support for breaking down these job-killing trade barriers while imposing strong Congressional oversight and clear Constitutional mandates upon the Obama Administration. Under TPA, Congress outlines 150 requirements that must be met for Congress to consider any trade agreement, including lower tariffs, protection of property rights, defense of religious liberties, and unprecedented transparency. By putting these guard rails into place, Congress can ensure any trade agreement protects American interests – and if Obama submits one that doesn’t, Congress can and will reject it.
“I am confident that, given a free and open marketplace, Kansans can meet and beat our competitors around the world. Ninety-five percent of our potential customers live outside America – and, with TPA, we can move forward to a time when Kansans are no longer shackled by foreign governments and Washington politics.”