Farmers’ Motorcade for Trade ends tour at Reagan World Trade Center
The Farmers for Free Trade Motorcade for Trade that has traveled throughout rural America this summer ended its tour in Washington on Friday with a stop at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, and with a roundtable to promote congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.
While the recreational vehicle took its message to the farmers market taking place on Pennsylvania Avenue, a panel explained that the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Corn Refiners Association and other groups had sponsored the tour to remind farmers of the importance of trade to their incomes and to connect with members of Congress, particularly those who were elected for the first time in 2018.
Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., the national spokeswoman for Farmers for Free Trade, said that the 20,000-mile, 30-state, 100-stop tour had been about “letting people affected by trade show up.”
Lincoln, who took part in the RV’s first stop in Pennsylvania and appeared in several other states, said the purpose of the tour was “to convince farmers that they needed to speak up.”
After President Donald Trump announced that a new agreement with Canada and Mexico had been reached, a lot of farmers did not realize there “were still a lot of steps” before the agreement could go into effect and replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, Lincoln said.
She noted that the RV had gone to the Iowa State Fair where participants met with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and to California, where they met with the staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. When the RV got to Illinois, the participants met with Pelosi herself.
The tour’s goal of building support for the USMCA was “like approaching a neighbor who has weeds in the field and saying ‘let’s tackle this together,’” Lincoln said.
In a reference to any opposition to USMCA, Lincoln said she agreed with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who used to say that if senators agreed on 80% of what was in a bill, they should vote for it.
Laramie Adams, the legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, noted the tour had several stops in the Lone Star state, and that in some cases the stop provided an opportunity for newly elected members to meet with farmers and learn about their views.
“Our farmers need a trade win. USMCA is that win,” Adams said. “Everyone knew USMCA was good but once we got out there, people started talking about it more.”
Adams also noted that the tour made stops in El Paso, Houston and San Antonio to demonstrate that USMCA is important to interests beyond agriculture, particularly the ports.
Corn Refiners Association President John Bode pointed out that about 20% of agricultural products are exported and that a significant portion of American manufacturing is agriculture-related.
Michelle Erickson Jones, a Montana farmer, said that an event in her state had included former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who cofounded Farmers for Free Trade with the late Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. USMCA would help wheat farmers by making changes to Canada’s grain grading system, she noted.
U.S. Apple Association President Jim Bair noted that the tour included stops in apple-growing states ranging from Pennsylvania to Washington.
Bair noted that after the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed, apple exports to Mexico quadrupled and exports to Canada doubled. But in the trade turmoil of the past year, exports dropped by a third, causing a big drop in income.
Growers have made major investments based on the optimism created by NAFTA, he said, even though it takes $60,000 to put in an acre of new trees and the trees do not produce a crop for four years.
“USMCA has to get ratified,” Bair said. “The future without free trade is too horrible to contemplate.”
But Bair said he is optimistic that the work done by Farmers for Free Trade will help lead to USMCA’s approval.
“In 30 years I have never seen a coalition like this,” he said.
Tiffany Atwell, a former aide to Grassley who is now in charge of global government and industry affairs at Corteva Agriscience, formerly a part of DowDuPont, said that USMCA is important to the seed and crop protection company for two reasons. Corteva has 400,000 U.S. farmer customers who export and the sanitary and phytosanitary and intellectual property provisions will help the company export its own products, she said.
Atwell urged the organizers of Farmers for Free Trade to “keep us fired up. It is going to be a long road.”
Angela Hoffman, co-director of Farmers for Free Trade, said the group’s efforts are “a passion project” that will continue in Washington and nationwide.
But Carrie Clark Phillips, the Farmers for Free Trade director of policy and partnerships, who traveled many of the motorcade’s 20,000 miles, joked that the RV had been so successful as an organizing tool she would “go rogue” and keep the vehicle on the road.