The United States needs to knock down foreign barriers to American food and agriculture exports in the name of fairness, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday at the World Ag Expo in California’s Central Valley. “We need fair trade,” McCarthy said at a farm bill listening session and in a speech at the expo.
America is the largest ag exporter in the world and shipped a record $196.4 billion in goods overseas in fiscal 2022. Sales are forecast to be nearly as large, at $190 billion, this fiscal year although imports would total $199 billion, due to Americans’ taste for coffee, wine, distilled spirits and fresh fruit and vegetables.
“When we have fair trade, we can compete and we can put our products on every table,” said McCarthy in a speech that preceded the two-hour House Agriculture Committee listening session. “When I watch these other countries want to come and be on our shelves, but say ‘no’ (to imports) — that’s wrong. We need to knock down every barrier because no one’s going to beat us in that process.”
McCarthy included domestic barriers on his list of targets, such as water policies, “when I see choices are made for fish, not people.” He also cited inflation and burdensome regulations.
“And this is the last thing I’m going to tell you,” McCarthy said as he declared the 2023 farm bill was off to a bipartisan start, given attendance by Republicans and Democratic lawmakers at the listening session. “When I was (Republican) whip, the farm bill was the hardest bill to pass.”
In 2013, when McCarthy was GOP whip, the House, for the first time, defeated a farm bill when Republican conservatives sought to cut billions of dollars from public nutrition programs. The farm bill was enacted in 2014 without the cuts.
Speakers at the listening session called for expansion of the federally subsidized crop insurance program, especially for fruit, vegetable, nut and horticultural crops; a doubling of funding for two USDA export promotion programs; stronger dairy supports; creation of a domestic market development program to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables; creation of a permanent USDA disaster relief program for crops; and expansion of land stewardship programs.
Crop insurance is available on only a quarter of the 400 crops grown in California, said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau.
“We need more TEFAP and we need more SNAP,” said Natalie Caples, speaking for the California Association of Food Banks. TEFAP — The Emergency Food Assistance Program — is a USDA program that donates food for distribution by charities.
“A great rural value, actually,” said Agriculture chairman Glenn Thompson.
To watch a video of the listening session, click here.
To watch a video of McCarthy’s speech, click here.