They call it the land of 3 million people and 20 million pigs.
Iowa, the largest pork producing and exporting state in the country, boasts a thriving agricultural industry. And a controversial pending trade deal in far-off Washington is currently running hog wild in political conversations in the Hawkeye State’s most dominant industry.
President Barack Obama is seeking so-called fast-track power from Congress to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, a sweeping trade measure in the mold of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated two decades ago. The deal would create new openings to sell agricultural products, natural gas, cars and more into Japan’s developed economy, as well as Australia’s and New Zealand’s.
The House is likely to vote on the measure on Friday.
And with the likely close vote looming, numerous Iowan pork farmers at the World Pork Expo told CNN last week that the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is the most critical political issue they currently face in this first-in-the-nation caucus state.
“It’s really important that we are able to export our product,” farmer Barb Determan said. “We have a moral duty. We’re feeding the world here.”
She’s not joking: Pork is the most consumed meat in the world, even though it’s not in the United States and pork exports currently account for over 26% of production. And in Iowa, agriculture was valued at $15.1 billion in 2014, with about $7.5 billion coming from hog production.
Locals say that growth could be greatly accelerated in the coming months and years, pending the outcome in Congress.
If passed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership could increase U.S. pork exports by as much as 50% over 10 years, said Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council and a farmer himself.
“On the whole, you’re talking about a huge opportunity for increased jobs. The latest numbers that I’ve seen as it relates to the U.S. Pork industry, is that when fully implemented, we see the opportunity for another 10,000 full-time jobs,” Dierks said, noting that this growth would also create support positions within the industry and trickle-down job opportunities.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, has also advocated in favor of the deal. In April, he wrote to the members of the Iowa congressional delegation that between 2011 and the end of 2014, the value of Iowa exports increased by nearly 40%.
“If we are to continue this strong growth – which creates jobs and increases Iowa family incomes – we know that Congress and the President must continue to look for opportunities to expand the global market for high-quality Iowa products,” Branstad wrote. “Our nation should welcome a more transparent, rules-based system of trade around the world that helps our businesses, workers and farmers excel in a dynamic, global community.”
But not all farmers are in agreement.
Independent farmer George Naylor, who grows corn, soybeans, and organic apples in Churdan, Iowa, says those in favor of the trade deal “sell out their fellow farmers.”
“It would mean further loss of this country’s sovereignty over its agricultural system, which means every farmer is at the mercy of an international market,” Naylor said, citing concerns that the deal would make it easier for corporations to move agricultural labor overseas.
For Dierks, the opportunity for growth in the United States makes the chance to negotiate the deal worthwhile.
“One of the reasons that TPP is important is the fact that the rest of the world is not standing still for the U.S.,” he said. “There’s been an explosion of free trade agreements, and many of the countries working on the TPP are making agreements with other countries. That’s going to make them more competitive and if we don’t get access to those markets that’s going to leave us out, and over time, that will hurt us as Americans.”
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.