When Trump meets Abe, they need to talk beef

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Story highlights

  • Craig Uden: President Trump's executive order on the TPP put agricultural families at an even steeper financial disadvantage
  • His meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could be crucial for our success, he writes

Craig Uden is the new president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the beef industry's largest membership organization. He is a partner in Darr Feedlot, a commercial cattle feeding business, and runs a family cattle business. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN)With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting Friday with President Trump, the issue of international trade is once again front and center. And while we'll certainly hear a lot about how various industries are affected by trade, it's important to remember just how important access to international markets is to an often-overlooked sector: American farmers and ranchers.

For example, I'm a fourth-generation cattleman from Elwood, Nebraska, population 707, according to the 2010 census. I'm a partner in Darr Feedlot, a commercial cattle feeding business. My wife, Terri, and I also own and manage a cattle ranch. My son, Andrew, works with his own high-tech animal information company, contributing directly to the rural economy. My daughter, Blair, and her husband own a registered Red Angus herd in Minnesota.
Craig and Terri Uden
We -- and hundreds of thousands of similar agricultural families -- are the real, if often forgotten, American faces of international trade. Now, we don't sell our beef directly to restaurants or butchers in Canada, Japan, or China; we sell to others in the production chain, who then sell a sizeable -- and growing -- percentage of our high-quality cuts to customers in other countries. But that foreign demand -- and the access to the markets where that demand is growing rapidly -- means a better life for my family and hundreds of thousands of others just like mine.
Over the past few years, politicians across the ideological spectrum have attempted to paint a portrait of how international trade has impacted the typical American worker. By now we're familiar with this portrait: the worker whose factory job disappeared when cheaper labor became available in other countries.
To be sure, many factory workers across rural America and the Rust Belt have lost their jobs in recent years, and the pain they feel is very real. However, recent research, such as a 2016 study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, shows that approximately 85% of the job loss in manufacturing between 2000 and 2010 resulted from technological advances and automation rather than trade.
On the other hand, international trade -- especially the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- has been one of the greatest success stories in the long history of the U.S. beef industry, and for American agricultural families in general. In fact, since NAFTA was implemented in 1993, exports of American-produced beef to Mexico have grown by more than 750%, according to the US Meat Export Federation. In addition, exports now account for as much as 13% of overall U.S. beef production -- and it's more likely to be higher-quality cuts that bring in higher revenues for the hundreds of thousands of American families in the beef community.
Donald Trump withdraws from TPP
Donald Trump withdraws from TPP

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Unfortunately, all the heated campaign-trail rhetoric began to have real-world policy implications on Jan. 23, when President Trump signed an executive order that began the process of withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- the 12-nation trade deal that would have provided American producers with much greater access along the Pacific Rim.
In fact, American cattle producers are already losing out because we aren't competing on a level playing field with other beef producing nations. Tariffs on American beef into Japan are currently significantly higher than those for imports from Australia. TPP would have put American beef producers on equal footing with Australian producers, but now that competitive disadvantage will remain indefinitely.
Contrary to much of the rhetoric we've heard in recent years, the more accurate faces of trade in the United States look like the ones in my family, and they're much more likely to be smiling faces than those you might have seen on the campaign trail.
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I understand that foreign trade has been a convenient political punching bag for a long time. But sparking a trade war with Canada, Mexico, and Asia will only lead to higher tariffs (in other words: taxes) on American-produced beef in those markets and put our American producers at a much steeper competitive disadvantage. The fact remains that, according to the Small Business Administration, 96% of the world's consumers live outside the United States, and expanding access to those consumers is the single best thing we can do to help American cattle-producing families like mine be more successful.