|MARCH 2009 --
On December 11, four National Grange leaders met with members of President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team in the offices of the United States Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. to discuss agriculture and international trade issues facing the incoming Administration. The Grange delegation included, Ms Betsy Huber, Chair of the National Grange Board of Directors, and President of the Pennsylvania State Grange; Mr. Jimmy Gentry, Vice President of the National Grange and President of the North Carolina State Grange; Mr. Joseph Fryman, a corn and soybean farmer from Blair, NE who is also Treasurer of the National Grange, and President of the Nebraska State Grange and Leroy Watson, National Grange Director of Legislative Affairs.
Grange leaders meet with members of Obama’s transition team in December. The Grange delegation informed the transition team representatives that the National Grange has provided counsel and support to every U.S. President since World War II on every periodic reauthorization of general farm legislation as well as every international discussion leading to multi-lateral agreements, bilateral trade agreements and international food aid programs. The Grange delegation encouraged the new Obama Administration to seek a fair and level playing field when entering into new trade agreements to protect the critical role that U.S. agriculture plays in international markets for both commercial sales and food aid assistance. “The movement of agricultural products across our country as well as exports to foreign countries is vital to the economy of our nation and necessary to assure greater international food security that will increasingly lead to global peace and prosperity,” the Grange members explained.
The Grange delegation brought several specific recommendations related to agriculture and trade policies that they hope the new Obama Administration will implement early in its first term:
• The National Grange urges the new Obama Administration to quickly appoint a permanent chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, to assure a strong representation of U.S. agricultural interests in all trade negotiations. However, the Grange representatives also insisted that that representatives of U.S.DA and the Department of Homeland Security should also be fully involved in all trade negotiations.
• The National Grange urges the Obama Administration to make passage of “fast track” trade legislation by Congress an early legislative priority in order to provide President Obama with sufficient legal authority tonegotiate effectively for a reduction in agriculture trade barriers, both tariff and non-tariff that will, in turn provide additional and much needed economic stimulus to farming and rural communities. The Grange members expressed their support for the current negotiating principles set forth by the United States’ for the World Trade Organization (WTO) “Doha Round” and called on the new Obama Administration to support amendments to future WTO trade agreements that will result in swifter, more predictable and better targeted remedies to international trade disputes.
• The National Grange urges the Obama Administration to adopt coordinated policies to combat trade distorting practices instituted by foreign governments as part of their “sovereign authority”, such as currency manipulation and unilateral repudiation of sovereign debt, especially in those cases where it becomes more difficult for U.S. farmers and manufacturers to sell their products in oversees markets.
• The National Grange encourages the Obama Administration to promote trade policies that are aimed at increasing local food production in developing countries, especially in areas where access to transportation and other local infrastructure make the distribution of imported food expensive, dangerous or both. “All future trade agreements should recognize the need for more international support for research, education and development of programs designed to improve the capability of farmers in food deficient areas to meet more of the food needs of their people,” the Grange leaders stated.
• The National Grange calls on the new Obama Administration to develop and publicly articulate a consistent policy on the use of agricultural trade sanctions by the U.S. government. The Grange will support all efforts to maintain the legal sanctity of agricultural export contracts. “The National Grange strongly believes that food and food producers should never be used as political pawns,” the Grange leaders emphatically stated.
• Finally, The National Grange urges the Obama Administration to quickly remove trade, financial, and travel restrictions to Cuba. The Grange urges the new Administration to seek means whereby Cuba might be extended loans and/or credit to purchase U.S. agricultural products. The Grange further urges the new Administration to quickly seek passage of the pending bilateral trade agreements that have already been negotiated with the nations of Columbia and South Korea.
Afterwards, National Grange Vice President Jimmy Gentry commented “We had a productive meeting and a valuable exchange of ideas.” “I had a clear impression that the Obama transition officials were genuinely seeking sound advice and strong policy ideas in the areas of agriculture and trade policy that can make an immediate difference in the economic situation faced by farming and rural communities across the nation.” the Grange leader concluded.