Op-ed: Kentucky Is A Winner on Trade

By: Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson

Over the last year, Kentucky’s business and agricultural communities have celebrated many policy victories. Workers and businesses in our state continue to reap the benefits of policies passed by the Kentucky General Assembly last year, and major corporations quickly announced raises, bonuses, and new investment immediately after adoption of federal tax reform. Much credit must go to U.S. Senate Majority Leader McConnell for leading the United States to once-in-a-generation tax reform.

Though everyday folks are starting to see the benefits of a booming economy, the shadow of critical trade agreement renegotiations with Canada and Mexico could make or break this economic progress. It is important these renegotiations result in a trade deal that delivers economic results for Kentucky businesses, farmers, and workers who benefit from international trade.

Kentucky is already a winner when it comes to trade. We generate $30.9 billion in exports, with Canada and Mexico being among our top markets. Trade supports 539,000 jobs in Kentucky and most of our exporters are small and medium sized businesses. Kentucky is a manufacturing state, and the trade agreement we have with Canada and Mexico has been positive for manufacturing business and workers alike. From 2008-2014, the U.S. experienced a trade surplus with Canada and Mexico for manufactured goods of $79 billion.

Our farmers know how important international trade is to our agricultural economy. Kentucky needs international trade, but more importantly, the rest of the world needs Kentucky’s agricultural products. Across the nation, our farms benefit greatly from NAFTA, which has resulted in a 350 percent increase in exports from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico since its inception. The U.S. supplies 59 percent of Canadian agricultural imports. While this statistic is powerful on its own, the local impact for farmers is even more dramatic: nearly 20 percent of all Kentucky agricultural products go to Canada alone.

That being said, there are parts of NAFTA that need repair, in particular in the area of trade reciprocity. But it is important that trade renegotiations follow the physician’s rule, applied to agriculture, business and workers: first, do no harm. Just last month, the latest jobs report revealed the lowest unemployment since 2000 and that wages grew at the fastest pace since 2009. It is essential that any renegotiation and clarification of trade deals must continue this incredible economic expansion, not restrict it.

Kentucky is fortunate to have one of its own as a strong partner in promoting closer U.S.-Canada economic ties: Ambassador Kelly Craft. Ambassador Craft is a strong voice for not only Kentucky, but for our entire country.

As the trade representatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico continue negotiations, we call on all federal officials to support a modernized trade agreement that expands our opportunities while not harming the intricate relationship our suppliers and consumers have with our neighboring countries. Failure to renegotiate – or worse – withdrawal from the agreement could be detrimental to Kentucky businesses, farmers and workers. Let’s turn away from the myths on trade and face the facts that trade is a clear win for Kentucky.

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