A broad-based food and agriculture coalition this week called on President Donald Trump to support trade with countries in the Asia-Pacific region and to reduce or eliminate tariffs and restrictive policies.
It follows Trump last month signing an executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The American Farm Bureau Federation, which advocated for the TPP, estimated the trade deal would have boosted farm income substantially and added thousands of new jobs to the U.S. economy.
In a letter dated Feb. 6 to Trump, the coalition of 87 organizations and companies from food and agribusiness said the Asia-Pacific region is a large and growing market for its products.
"Reducing and eliminating tariffs and other restrictive agricultural policies in this region will help American workers in our sector compete, creating an opportunity to supply Asian markets with high-quality food and agricultural goods," said the letter.
It added, "While many in our sector strongly supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we hope future agreements build upon the valuable aspects of that agreement to increase our market access in the Asia-Pacific."
During the election, Trump called TPP "a horrible deal" and said it was too generous for China at the expense of other nations. Trump also wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The letter was sent by a group that represents some of the largest names in food and ag, including Cargill, ConAgra, Campbell Soup, Archer Daniels Midland, Smithfield Foods, among others. Also, organizations include the National Farm Bureau, the U.S. Grains Council as well as the American Soybean Association and Corn Refiners Association, to name a few
Overall, the food and ag industry employs more than 15 million Americans, according to the letter. It also said the industry is vital to the economic growth of the nation's heartland. That area showed strong support for Trump during the presidential election.
"Our ability to continue to create jobs and support economic growth in rural America depends on maintaining and increasing access to markets outside the United States through existing and future trade agreements," the letter said.
Some of the same coalition members last month sent a letter to Trump asking him to "modernize" NAFTA rather than scrap the agreement entirely.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still operating under an acting deputy, Michael Young, a veteran employee of the agency. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Trump's pick for the USDA secretary post, still hasn't had a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
"We'll schedule a hearing once we receive Governor Perdue's materials," a Senate ag committee spokesperson emailed Tuesday.
Perdue, a veterinarian turned agribusinessman, started in politics as a Democrat but in 1998 switched to the Republican party. He served two consecutive terms as governor of Georgia.