Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, says his deep concerns about the current uncertainty surrounding trade agreements are rooted in the personal reasons that drove him to seek public office.
"My interest in serving in Washington, D.C., stems from a desire to do everything I can to make sure that rural America is alive and well for future generations of young people," he told attendees at the annual Farm Bureau breakfast at the Kansas State Fair. "A vibrant agriculture industry is key to that. The ability of young people to either stay or return depends on profitability."
The reality is that 95% of the world's customers for agricultural products do not live in the United States, he said. Trade agreements are essential.
"In the absence of exports, the future of agriculture will not be what we need it to be," Moran said. "We are always trying to get new markets. Farmers and commodity groups have spent their own time and money to try to develop markets around the world. Now, those are at risk."
Moran said he would like to see the U.S. re-engage in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and complete a trilateral trade agreement with Mexico. "And we especially need to engage with Japan," he said.
Moran said trade is a "defining issue" for agriculture. "Once you lose a market, how do you get it back? We are always trying to get new markets for ag in the world," he said.
Moran pointed to an example of his hometown losing a physician. "People had to go find a doctor somewhere else," he said. "Eventually, when the town was able to recruit a new doctor, the patients were already gone. In many cases, they were happy with the doctor they had switched to and didn't want to switch again."
Moran said the goal is to keep family farms in family hands.
"Today, if you are making a decision as an 18 to 25 year-old, you have to ask, can the farm support you and eventually your family? Uncertainty is already there — drought, flood, commodity prices. Add in the uncertainty of markets and, uh, no. It can't reliably support me."
Once that young person devotes himself or herself to finding another career, it becomes less likely that they will ever return to the farm, he said.
"I've been told that I'm over-reacting," Moran said. "Am I? If I don't perform my job by making the point that we need these markets and this tariff battle has to end and end well, I am not living up to my whole reason for ever getting involved in politics. If we don't make this case, it could have long-term consequences."
Moran said he thinks the U.S. needs to resolve issues with Canada and Mexico and solidify its relationship with Europe and then, united, go after China for its bad actions on trade, which includes intellectual property theft.