Progress Edition

Washington State Department of Agriculture: In 2018, a year of exceptional uncertainty and new challenges, WSDA advocated for producers, processors and the public

Director Sandison meets with Canadian representatives at the Tri National Accord last October.
Director Sandison meets with Canadian representatives at the Tri National Accord last October. Courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture

In a year of many challenges, passage of the 2018 Farm Bill stands out as a major accomplishment for the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington’s agriculture industry last year.

In partnership with ag industry groups and Washington State University, we made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., to inform and help guide lawmakers as they debated the new omnibus legislation, which resulted in policies that benefit producers and processors here in Washington state.

The new bill supports robust programs for market access, research, specialty crops and conservation to name just of few of the priorities achieved for our state.

However, several unsettled international issues will mean a lot more work for WSDA representatives and me in the coming months.

Our longstanding free trade agreement between Canada and Mexico is still unresolved, a new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was enacted without the United States, and the agriculture community was looking for ways to respond to a series of retaliatory tariffs from China, Mexico and Canada.

WSDA’s International Marketing Program brought Washington agricultural businesses to China, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam to find new export opportunities in these markets.

At home, we met with farmers, processors, industry representatives, congressional leaders and representatives for our global trading partners. We advocated for our producers and processors, helped to inform our representatives in Congress and looked for ways to open new markets to replace those that were being blocked.

The value of agriculture exports

The international market is extremely important to Washington agriculture. About 30 percent of Washington’s food and agriculture products are sold internationally. Our agricultural exports are valued at nearly $7 billion annually.

But in 2018, as tensions grew between the U.S. and some of our biggest export countries, including China, Canada and Mexico, so did the burden on agriculture.

Agriculture products ranging from potatoes to Pinot Noir now face retaliatory tariffs from China, Mexico, Canada, Turkey and the European Union. More than $1 billion in ag exports have become the targets of retaliatory tariffs.

For example, China was the number-one market for Washington cherries in 2017, with exports of nearly $100 million. Washington’s cherry industry is concerned the China market will be completely closed in 2019.

Seafood exports to China, which is Washington’s second-largest market, was also impacted by tariffs. Where China imported seafood valued at more than $154 million in 2017, the industry saw a 36 percent decline in exports to China between July and November last year.

Although growers in all sectors tried to adjust by redirecting some of their exports back into the domestic market or shifting to new export markets, the retaliatory tariffs have taken a toll.

The Response

The federal government has worked to mitigate tariff impacts with a $12 billion aid package.

In addition, WSDA is stepping up our efforts to assist our producers who either do not qualify or have limited access to these programs.

We continue to assist these growers and processors in finding new buyers and markets. In 2019, WSDA has export activities planned for Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.

In this coming year, I will continue working with our congressional representatives as they implement the new Farm Bill and push for the rapid development of a trade agreement with Japan to make sure Washington wheat, beef and other producers are not boxed out of that critical Asian market.

Of course, we hope to see some agreement with China regarding tariffs in the near future, but I will continue to update lawmakers and the industry about that progress.