Weekly Columns

Fair trade agreements have become increasingly important to Arkansas’s economy over the last half-century. The world is more connected than ever. Access to global markets is necessary, not just for the large corporations that call Arkansas home, but also for small and medium-sized businesses looking to expand their operations and footprints.  

With a level playing field, Arkansas’s agriculture, manufacturing and small businesses can compete with anyone around the globe. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the type of mutually beneficial trade agreement we need to pursue to help Arkansas’s economy grow.

According to the Arkansas World Trade Center, Natural State goods and services are exported to 181 countries, but Canada and Mexico combined for over one-third of our exports in 2017. Our exports to these two countries added $2.1 billion to Arkansas’s economy that same year.  

Nearly 69,000 jobs in the state are dependent on trade with Canada and another 41,000 jobs are tied to trade with Mexico. They are the workers in the paper mills in south Arkansas. The employees of the steel mills in northeast Arkansas. The family farmers producing rice in the Delta. The line workers at the poultry processing plants in northwest Arkansas. These Arkansans, and many more, work in the industries that produce our top exports to Mexico and Canada. 

For them, and countless others, the announcement that a trade agreement has been reached with Canada and Mexico was very welcome and promising news. Arkansas farmers, business leaders and workers understand how vital it is to have free—but also fair—trade, particularly with our neighbors to the north and south. It helps create the sense of certainty that has been sorely missing for our manufacturers, small businesses and agriculture industry.   

Arkansas has a diverse economy ranging from aerospace and defense to steel production to the world’s largest retailer, but agriculture is by far our largest industry. It adds around $16 billion to our economy every year and accounts for approximately one in every six jobs.

For our agricultural community, it is particularly critical that we push this agreement across the finish line. Our farmers face a very tenuous situation right now. 

Commodity prices are well below the cost of production. Farm incomes in 2018 dropped sharply again for the fifth consecutive year. Total farm debt has risen to levels not seen since the early 1980s. A rainy fall and spring have hampered planting season in Arkansas while producing one of the worst floods in our state’s history. 

In my discussions with farmers on how we can help, the same mantra is often repeated—they prefer trade over aid. While they appreciate the president’s efforts to ease the pain during these trade standoffs, what they really need are more markets in which to sell their products. They understand that increased trade is the way to create a better long-term outlook for their operations.  

Our neighbors to the north and south are our natural allies and trading partners. The president and his team worked hard to get Canada and Mexico to the negotiating table to formalize a more mutually beneficial agreement. That hard work has paid off in the form of the USMCA. Now, Congress has a responsibility to see it through to the end.