President Obama addressed the Congress and the nation Jan. 20 and laid out his vision for 2015. Of most interest to many agricultural groups and associations was President Obama’s support of trade, specifically Trade Promotion Authority. Multiple agricultural groups supported Obama’s statements about trade, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association.

Each offered their own take on the president’s speech and his trade items.

Bob Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, offered this statement:

“The president this evening held out a glimmer of hope that he and the Republican Congress might still work together. His words were reassuring, yet recent history has been anything but. So many good things can be accomplished, so once again, we ask leaders of both parties: Please work together.

“We strongly support President Obama’s efforts to normalize trade and other relations with Cuba. Cuba remains off-limits to almost all American trade – a self-imposed tactic that has repeatedly failed to secure reforms. American agriculture needs the same access to Cuban markets that so many other countries have. Easing trade financing restrictions is a strong beginning to U.S. food and fiber being accessible to Cuba’s 11 million consumers. It’s also something most Americans know is right.

“Farm Bureau is also encouraged by the president’s strong support for Trade Promotion Authority, which would give Congress the responsibility to vote yes or no on foreign-trade treaties without deal-killing amendments. Congress must pass bi-partisan TPA legislation to strengthen U.S. negotiating positions in future trade agreements.

“We remain resolute that tax laws must protect the family farm. Our members grow America’s food and fiber for rates of return that are already miniscule compared to almost any other investment they could make. We need to continue to have tax policies that do not punish capital-intensive businesses like farms and ranches, and that do not hinder sons and daughters from following the agricultural legacy of their parents.

“America needs to move forward. We can do that only when both parties do what our founders did when they wrote the Constitution: compromise.”

American Soybean Association

The American Soybean Association (ASA) issued its annual response to the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and called on the Obama Administration and members of the House and the Senate to work together on issues vital to soybean farmers, including trade, infrastructure and rural development.

"Congress and the administration are at a crossroads," said ASA President and Texas farmer Wade Cowan. "They have an opportunity to come together on issues that can drive real progress for soybean farmers across the country. In his address tonight, President Obama focused on several projects that we at ASA believe are essential to our success moving forward."

"First, Trade Promotion Authority is long overdue," said Cowan. "The United States is currently involved in the negotiation of major trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which have the potential help to protect and expand agriculture market access in the Pacific Rim and Europe. Soybeans are the nation's leading farm export, and it's critically important that Congress pass and the President sign a completed TPA package that will lay the groundwork for robust and comprehensive trade agreements."

"We cannot improve trade without modern ports," continued Cowan, "and we are pleased to see the president discuss our nation's infrastructure needs as well. We depend on ports in nearly every coastal region of the United States to carry our soybeans abroad, and we must continually invest in this supply chain to stay ahead of our foreign competitors."

Cowan also noted ASA's enthusiasm with the administration's work toward the normalization of relations with Cuba. "It is encouraging to see that steps are being taken to normalize relations with Cuba, though there is more work to be done," he said. "Congress must work to fully end the long-standing embargo and allow open trade and investment that will enhance Cuban citizens' access to affordable food and provide the U.S. farmers with expanded market access opportunities."

Finally, Cowan welcomed President Obama's commitment to broadband internet connectivity, and in particular rural broadband internet access. "The president's support for bringing broadband and wireless services to 'every community' including those in rural America is extremely important for our farmers, especially in light of the precision agriculture tools we use in our operations," Cowan added. "As we become ever more connected, this effort will ensure rural communities share in the opportunities afforded by modern broadband access, and their collective progress will continue."

"In the eyes of America's soybean farmers, these are no-brainers," concluded Cowan. "These are bi-partisan issues around which we believe all parties can coalesce and find consensus. We are committed to working with them to see these plans to fruition, and we hope they will echo that commitment."

National Corn Growers Association

With President Obama and Sen. Joni Ernst each highlighting the importance of trade in the 2015 State of the Union address and Republican response, the National Corn Growers Association urged passage of bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation this year.   

“Modernized TPA improves our nation’s ability to advance trade agreements that open markets for U.S. farmers,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling. “Ag exports, at nearly $150 billion, support over one million American jobs.”   

Currently, the United States is pursuing an ambitious set of trade negotiations, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which renews the president's authority to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments, is critical in finalizing agreements such as TPP because it assures our trading partners that a final deal won't be altered by Congress.

 “We are encouraged by Senator Ernst’s call to work together and tear down trade barriers. Couple TPA with normalized relations with Cuba, and farmers and consumers – both here and abroad – will benefit,” Bowling said.