Trade, particularly through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is vital for New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers. According to the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service, 58% of New Mexico’s total agricultural exports in 2016 were delivered to our NAFTA partners. With New Mexico exporting $712.2 million worth of agricultural products, ranging from beef and dairy products, to our world famous chile and pecans, trade plays a pivotal role in New Mexico’s agricultural economy.
However, like many of you, I have seen both the positive and negative effects of trade on New Mexico. Being a border state, trade deals often required us to compete directly with Mexico. Although Mexico does not enjoy the freedoms we are privileged to have as Americans, a farmer cannot deny the advantage that Mexican producers have specifically when it comes to labor and environmental regulations. Being true innovators, we found ways to compete and market our products, but when countries began retaliating against U.S. tariffs, our profit margin became even more thin.
With each tariff levied by the United States, the U.S. agriculture industry, which currently boasts a trade surplus, is repeatedly the target of retaliatory measures. The tariffs on U.S. pecan exports to China have risen to 47%. Cheese products exported to Mexico are facing tariffs ranging from 20 to 25%. As lists of tariffs are released, the number of U.S. agriculture products affected only expands.
History has shown that agriculture bears the brunt of trade disputes. Patience prevailed in the past, but with net farm income down 52 percent in the past five years, many simply cannot afford to wait it out. Debt levels are rising, endangering your neighborhood farmers. Tariffs have had a negative effect on prices making farmers sell this year’s harvest at depressed prices, which in turn, is one more variable making it difficult for farmers and ranchers to repay their operating loans for seed and equipment.
While the administration has offered a short-term relief strategy to protect agricultural producers, the only real solution is restoration of our markets quickly, before the cost to agriculture is more than many of our family farmers and ranchers can bear. We need free, fair, reciprocal trade deals and we need them now. We are ready for the “better deal” we were promised.
Craig Ogden is a farmer near Loving and is president of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau.