Striving for strong ties

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Washington wheat growers meet with delegation from Japan

LEWISTON TRIBUNE – WILLIAM L. SPENCE – PULLMAN – Washington wheat growers took steps to strengthen a 60-year-old trade relationship with Japan on Wednesday, hoping to counteract President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach to trade policy.

Several officials – including Washington Grain Commission Chairman Gary Bailey, Washington Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers – met with a delegation from the Japan Flour Millers Association at the Lewis Alumni Centre on the WSU campus.

“To put it in perspective, these gentlemen are responsible for over 75 percent of Japan’s wheat purchases. They’re a really big deal,” said Mike Miller, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates.

The ostensive purpose of the meeting was to sign a letter of intent dealing with research on white club wheat varieties. However, the backdrop to the event was President Trump’s aggressive trade decisions, which include pulling out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal last year, threatening to ditch the North American Free Trade Agreement and, most recently, imposing tariffs on imported steel, aluminum and another $50 billion in Chinese goods.

U.S. Wheat Associates, which works to develop export markets, noted that the American wheat industry is “at serious risk” after Australia and Canada decided to move ahead with an 11-nation version of the TPP.

The move could reduce tariffs on their wheat exports by $65 per metric ton – putting American farmers at a $200 million price disadvantage.

“This should serve as a rallying cry for farmers, ranchers and dairy producers to call for the new trade deals we were promised when the president walked away from the TPP,” U.S. Wheat Associates said in a January news release.

The main message from Wednesday’s meeting was that despite the president’s actions, Washington state fully recognizes the importance of its trade relationship with Japan and wants it to thrive and continue.

“It’s taken decades to develop these relationships, and we don’t want to lose them,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. We cherish those relationships, and I’ve made very clear to the administration my concerns about across-the-board tariffs.”

McMorris Rodgers also noted that the president recently ordered administration officials to look at rejoining the TPP.

“That’s great news,” she said.

Bailey, a St. John farmer who leads the Washington Grain Commission, said the Japan Flour Millers Association “wants to see us back in the TPP.”

“They’re very consistent buyers, and they’re cash buyers,” he said. “It’s troubling when politics gets in the way of marketing.”

The grain commission, together with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Pullman, signed a letter of intent with the flour millers association dealing with white club wheat research.

Glen Squires, CEO of the grain commission, noted that Washington is a major grower of club wheat, and Japan is by far the main buyer.

“We want them to be more aware of what our (wheat) breeders are doing,” Squires said. “The goal is to send them samples of new varieties, have them test them and tell us what they like and don’t like. It’s a way for breeders to get feedback from the industry sooner.”

The hope is that a visiting scholar from Japan will also come to Pullman to work directly with farmers, he said. The commission also wants to make it clear that the work being done by the Agricultural Research Service here is important and should continue to be funded.

McMorris Rodgers, who is in a tight election race with former state Sen. Lisa Brown, said continues to meet with the president and administration officials to impress upon them the important of trade to Washington’s agricultural industry.

She noted that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will be coming to Eastern Washington in July. She has also invited House Agricultural Committee Chairman Michael Conway, R-Texas.

Posted By: William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune, May 3, 2018 Updated May 3, 2018

Picture: Barry Kough, Lewiston Tribune