Weekly Columns

We can be proud of the contributions of Arkansas farmers and ranchers to feed and clothe the world. The Natural State is a major exporter of rice, soybeans, cotton and poultry. Agriculture accounts for nearly 25 percent of our state’s economic activity, so it’s critical we foster an economic environment to help these operations thrive. Trade is a critical component to that formula. 

Considering that 95 percent of the world’s consumers exist outside of our borders, the U.S. must have the mindset that for every one customer here at home, there are five more in foreign markets. 

About one-fifth of American agriculture products are exported. The opportunity is ripe for growth. Despite this demand, trade simply has not been a priority for the Biden administration and the effects are being felt in the farming community. 

Just recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its farm income forecast for 2024 showing profitability is expected to fall by nearly $40 billion from last year. This follows a nearly $30 billion decline from 2022 to 2023. We now find ourselves in the most rapid and steepest erosion in the farm economy of all time. The agricultural trade imbalance plays a significant role in that decline.

For only the fourth time in 55 years we’re expected to have a trade deficit in agriculture in 2024. This administration’s lack of ambition on trade has put our producers at a disadvantage, with no new trade deals under negotiation. This is why it’s even more important that we protect existing trade deals, hold our trading partners accountable for agreements we’ve made, and ensure our agriculture producers have a level playing field to compete globally.

Unfortunately, the president continues to pursue an agenda that does the opposite. Not only is this administration refusing to pursue new market access opportunities for our producers, but it is failing to protect our own backyard. 

Just recently, the U.S. Department of Commerce proposed changes that would allow Vietnamese catfish producers to flood the U.S. market at prices below the cost of production. This decision would negatively impact Natural State catfish producers and have disastrous economic consequences for the industry. 

That’s why I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to the administration warning about the consequences its proposal would have for domestic producers and called for retaining the existing anti-dumping duty order. 

In early February, members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee called on the U.S. International Trade Commission Chairman to produce a report to help Congress create policies to better support our domestic rice industry. 

This is especially important as India, the top exporter of rice, heavily subsidizes their crop so they can sell it for less than our farmers can internationally. At the same time, India now has an export ban on rice that is disrupting global markets and creating economic uncertainty for rice producers here in Arkansas.

I’m championing legislation to protect Arkansas’s rice industry against these tactics. The Prioritizing Offensive Agricultural Disputes and Enforcement Act would establish a joint task force between the Office of the United States Trade Representative and USDA to coordinate a strategy to enforce our trade agreements and respond to unfair trade barriers so our farmers don’t find themselves at such a dramatic disadvantage. 

Farming is an incredibly risky business. Our producers need Washington to focus on increasing market access overseas and holding our trade partners to their word. I will continue to be a voice for Arkansas agricultural producers and advocate for policies that allow them to grow the most abundant, affordable and safest supply of food in the world.