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Farmer engagement leads to U.S. trade agreements

Article cover photo
Iowa soybean farmers are hopeful that the signing of the phase 1 agreement between the United States and China and the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will help with profitability in 2020. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, senior writer

Two years of Hills visits, letter-writing and conversations with legislators are paying off this week with the signing of the phase 1 agreement between the United States and China and the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Trade tensions between the United States and China heightened nearly 2 years ago when the countries implemented tit-for-tat tariffs. The back and forth between the countries increased tariffs first on ag goods entering the United States. China retaliated with tariffs on U.S. products, including soybeans. This shifted China’s soybean purchases of soybeans from the United States to other global producers.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) engaged in the conversation immediately.

“Our message was to take the time to get this right,” said Dave Walton, treasurer of the ISA Board of Directors and a farmer near Wilton. “We didn’t need a quick trade deal, we wanted a good trade deal.”

ISA farmers and staff met numerous times with legislators in Des Moines and government officials in Washington, D.C., expressing the importance of securing a trade agreement with China and passing the comprehensive agreement with Mexico and Canada.

“The tangible progress was partially sown by soybean farmers, who engaged Congress and the Administration (USTR/USDA) in an effort to deescalate the tariff war, restore open trade between the United States and China, and help position the U.S. as a predictable and reliable supplier of soybeans beyond 2022,” said Michael Dolch, director of public affairs for the ISA.

The association was also engaged in conversations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it was rolling out Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments as a result of lost trade opportunities amidst the trade war.

“We continually made contact with legislators and other government officials to make sure our voices were not only heard, but that our issues were addressed as well,” Walton said.

That was essential, said Randy Miller, ISA District 8 Director from Lacona.

“With 60% of U.S. soybeans going to China it was very important that we stayed engaged to work something out to get trade restored with China,” Miller said.

The ISA took part in trade missions to China and conversations with Chinese soybean buyers at the U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange & Midwest Specialty Grains Conference and Tradeshow in Chicago despite not having a trade deal in place.

“We understood that this trade war was a government-to-government issue,” Walton said. “It was important to maintain the personal relationships between the buyers and sellers so when the trade issue was resolved we could all come back to the table and sell soybeans again.”

 Walton said the signing of the trade deal with China and the passage of the USMCA was the result of a coordinated effort among farmers and ISA staff.

“The organization was a great advocate for us,” Walton said. “Staff was continually having conversations with folks in Washington, not only legislators, but directly with trade negotiators and White House staff. Having that open line of communication was big for us.”

The job isn’t complete until soybeans are unloaded in China and the soybean industry recognizes the full and formal removal of tariffs, Dolch said.

“We’ve made great progress, but we aren’t done yet.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at

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