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Weekly Column: Advocating For Better Market Access For Idaho Producers

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

I recently pressed Ambassador Katherine Tai, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), to improve market access and level the playing field for Idaho producers and companies, including by engaging with Japan to expand market access for Idaho potato producers, at the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing on the President’s 2024 Trade Policy Agenda, on April 17.

Preceding the hearing, I joined Senate colleagues, including fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch, in urging President Biden to raise the issue of finally allowing U.S. grown fresh potatoes to be exported to Japan during Prime Minister of Japan Kishida’s recent visit to the United States.  We wrote, “Last May, a bipartisan and bicameral group of 37 member of Congress requested your Administration’s assistance in opening the Japanese market for U.S. fresh table stock potatoes.  Since that time, little progress has been made. . . . There is no valid phytosanitary justification for these delays, as the U.S. potato industry has a strong history of exporting fresh potatoes to many markets . . .”   

I followed up by asking Ambassador Tai if she took the opportunity to discuss the ban of U.S. potatoes in her recent conversations with Japan.  She assured me that USTR has raised this issue in all four meetings of the U.S.-Japan Partnership on Trade, adding that they “will continue to press Japan to advance the request in a timely and science-based manner.”  I will hold the Biden Administration to this.    

This is one important issue in a growing list of trade concerns, with the President’s lack of negotiating real trade agreements and weak record on enforcement of existing trade agreements—the weakest of any Administration in 25 years. 

For the fourth year in a row, the Administration’s trade agenda provides no plan for real negotiations to improve market access.  When I visit our trade partners in other countries, they tell me they want to make real deals with high standards and they want to trade with us, rather than China.  And, tariffs matter, particularly for small businesses like farmers.  Australia and New Zealand each negotiated free trade agreements with Thailand, and, since then, demand for premium U.S. beef fell by 30 percent because cattlemen face a 50 percent tariff while those two partners face none.

Whether it be potatoes, dairy, wheat, beef or apples—our U.S. farmers are the best in the world.  This is precisely why a large number of farm groups wrote to Ambassador Tai recently asking for a real trade agenda and advancing dispute settlement reform so we can open markets for them. 

United States manufacturing, innovation, creative and tech industries are second to none.  If the Administration will not negotiate tariffs, it should at least help workers in these industries by negotiating critical rules on technical barriers to trade, intellectual property and key digital trade provisions such as on non-discrimination and free data flows.  Thus far, USTR has failed to do so.  

This benefits China, which is aggressively participating in international standards-setting bodies, pushing technology transfer and supporting data localization by countries, which could require our companies to store data on servers that are produced by Chinese companies such as Huawei, rather than on ones we host in the United States.

The proposals the Trump Administration crafted in coordination with the Senate Finance Committee for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement for technical barriers to trade, for intellectual property and for digital trade ensured we could regulate and also rise to China’s challenge.  It is well past time the Biden Administration began working with Congress to meaningfully expand market access opportunities. 

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