The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was just one of many agricultural organizations closely monitoring President Donald Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month at the White House.
“On the economy, we will seek a trading relationship that is free, fair and reciprocal, benefiting both of our countries,” President Trump stated during their joint press conference. Both leaders seemed optimistic that a bilateral trade deal could be made.
“Free and fair common set of rules should be created for the free trade in the region,” Prime Minister Abe said.
Just two weeks earlier the newly elected president had made good on one of his campaign promises and pulled the U.S. out of a trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The agreement was put together by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama as a way to deepen economic ties, slash tariffs, foster trade and boost growth among the 12 member countries involved.
Many U.S. food and agribusiness groups strongly supported the trade deal, seeing it as a way to boost agricultural exports with other countries like Japan. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, Japan imports over $30 billion in agricultural products each year, one-third of which comes from the United States.
There have been concerns from the agricultural sector over the President’s actions as a successful TPP agreement would have significantly reduced barriers on American imports to Japan. In order to help foster a new trade deal with Japan, more than 80 food and agribusiness groups sent a letter to the President urging for a new trade deal. The letter emphasized the importance that the Asia-Pacific region has on the U.S. economy and jobs. The NCBA followed suit with their own letter to President Trump.
Kent Bacus, NCBA Director of International Trade and Market Access, said he was encouraged by the positive dialogue between the two world leaders but still had questions as to what steps would be taken to keep the U.S. competitive with other countries like Australia who already have favorable trade agreements with Japan.
“The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is encouraged by the recent meeting between President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Abe,” Bacus said. “Unfortunately, U.S. beef still faces a 38.5 percent tariff which will be a growing trade barrier in future years unless the United States takes swift action to level the playing field by establishing a free trade agreement with Japan.”
Bacus stated that competing countries like Australia have preferential tariff treatment due to their 27.5 percent rate as part of its trade agreement with Japan. Having a TPP agreement, he argued, will keep the U.S. on a level playing field.
“However, since the United States has decided to withdraw from TPP, we must do all we can to encourage the Trump administration to prioritize bilateral trade with Japan,” Bacus said. “Otherwise, we will become much less competitive in Japan and will lose market share to Australia.”
New York Beef Council Chairman Rich Brown was also encouraged by the positive dialogue between the two world leaders. As a producer of Black Angus cattle in Port Byron, New York, Brown said he has been closely following TPP trade negotiations over the past several months.
“We have to change the trade that we have with Asia in general. We’re seeing a demand in Japan for the type of high-quality beef that we produce here in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that the two leaders will be able to put together a better deal than what the TPP offered.”
Brown did comment that the TPP agreement was potentially good for the beef industry over a period of years; however, it was going to take quite a while for to actually materialize. Yet, he remains hopeful for a new trade agreement.
“I’m optimistic that the time frame will be reduced and that we will be able to increase our trade with Japan at a higher rate than it currently is,” he said.