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By Don Brown
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture
RBC | If you live in Colorado, or if your business is touched in any way by any aspect of the agricultural industry, the ongoing national discussion about trade agreements and import tariffs should mean a lot to you. Colorado farmers and ranchers understand that there are a lot of things like weather and market price fluctuations that we can’t control. But we can make every effort to create new market opportunities and expand the global partnerships we have worked so hard to develop for our products.
We all need to work together to protect our state’s position in international markets. The Colorado farm community can’t afford to wait quietly for Washington to put forth a comprehensive trade strategy. While we wait, our global competitors are moving aggressively to formalize trade pacts to put them at a competitive advantage to the U.S. It’s not right to force our hard-working farmers and ranchers to stand idle while this political drama plays out.
Colorado ranchers and farmers need free and open access to international markets, as well as trade agreements that help us advance our export relationships. Over the last few years, Colorado agriculture helped lead our state out of the Great Recession, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and a big part of that was our ability to trade with over 100 countries who purchase Colorado food and agricultural products. Exports of food and agricultural products from Colorado have quadrupled in the past 20 years.
Agriculture is one of Colorado’s top economic sectors, creating approximately 173,000 jobs in our state. And it’s not just farm and ranch families impacted by the free trade discussion. If our markets are shut down, it will impact the dealerships where farmers buy farm equipment, the coffee shops where they eat lunch, the gas stations where they fuel up, and the banks where they do business. According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, every billion dollars of exports supports more than 5,220 jobs. And every dollar of exports creates an additional $1.14 of economic activity for Colorado citizens.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is vital for the well-being of Colorado and the United States. As U.S. farm incomes decline, the export market is often what keeps our rural communities afloat. In Colorado, nearly all of our 33,800 farms and ranches are family-owned. These are your friends and neighbors working long hours in the cold and heat to produce food for your family’s table.
We all need to raise our voices to oppose new tariffs and protect American farmers from the retaliation that will surely come from our trading partners with the imposition of tariffs on their products entering the U.S. Not only would these tariffs hurt our farmers and ranchers, but import tariffs raise prices to American consumers. I am working collaboratively across agriculture, including Farmers for Free Trade, to help farmers and ranchers speak up in support of trade that expands export opportunities and strengthens US agriculture. See how you can get involved at www.farmersforfreetrade.com.
Multiple generations of my family have worked the same land in Yuma County for over a century and we can appreciate the complex problems Colorado ranchers and farmers face during difficult times. When prices of commodities such as wheat and corn drop to 1980’s levels, and with the costs of operating that farm remains at 2017 levels, there is often a very fine line between a good year and a year when a family struggles to make a living.
The hard-working families making a living on our ranches and farms simply can’t afford to have their share of export revenue reduced. They are asking only for the right to trade in a fair and free global marketplace.
Don Brown was appointed Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture in January of 2015. A full bio is available at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agmain/commissioner-don-brown.