Speaking with AgriTalk Radio’s Mike Adams last week, Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of Farmers for Romney, outlined the candidate’s positions on trade, estate taxes and other issues of interest to farmers and ranchers. Earlier, we summarized a similar interview with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussing the Obama Administration’s record and positions on the same issues.
Beginning with trade issues, Northey says a Romney Administration would be more aggressive in pursuing trade agreements. President Obama, he says, has not asked for trade-promotion authority, which he says generally is regarded as essential to enable negotiations toward new agreements.
It is a great thing that we finally got the free-trade agreements (FTA) with South Korea, Columbia and Panama passed, Northey says. He points out that the FTAs initially were negotiated during the Bush Administration and took three years to renegotiate. In some cases, he says, those negotiations resulted in provisions less friendly to U.S. agriculture in defense of manufacturing provisions. The Panama agreement, he notes, is just now coming into enforcement.
Northey points out that U.S. agriculture produces more than domestic consumers can use, making trade critical. He says a Romney Administration would be a tough defender of trade policies and an aggressive negotiator for new trade agreements.
Regarding the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Northey says the agreement could provide some real opportunities, and Romney is supportive, especially if Japan involved. A Romney Administration also would pursue bilateral agreements with countries and regions such as in Europe and Asia. These agreements, he says, have fallen off the plate, in part because of the focus on the TPP. He says the Obama Administration has not been as aggressive in pursuing new trade agreements as past administrations, and he believes the Romney administration would be more so.
Regarding policies toward China, Northey says Romney outlines what he means by getting tough with China during the last presidential debate. He plans to challenge China on currency policies, believing that if Chinese currency were valued properly, our food and agricultural products would become more affordable in China. He says this approach could lead to tensions from time to time, but those tensions could produce a more positive trade environment. China needs our products, he says. They have a lot of mouths to feed, and increasingly rely on our imports of food such as pork, feed such as soybeans for their animals and other products such as cotton.
Adams asked Northey what a Romney administration would do to encourage young and beginning farmers. He responded that Romney would favor some credits and opportunities throughUSDA programs, but in talking with young farmers, he says their biggest concern regard regulations and estate taxes. Northey says there are a lot of medium-sized farmers looking ahead to end of December, wondering what would happen if their farm had to change hands after the tax reverts to earlier exemption levels and rates on January 1. (Unless Congress intervenes, the current exemption of $5 million and rate of 35 percent would revert to an exemption of $1 million and a maximum rate of 55 percent on January 1.)
The current President, he says, “has said in many ways” he considers some resources on farms belonging to society, rather than farmers. It’s a philosophy that scares a lot of young farmers who make investments that take a long time to pay off, such as in land, equipment or livestock, Northey says. They worry about policies such as labor-regulation proposals that were pulled, but were in play for eight months. They worry, he says, about the next proposed regulations that might not be pulled.
Asked about agencies such as the EPA under a Romney Administration, Northey says his party recognizes a need for some regulations and for a government role in trade and other areas. However, he says a Romney Administration would be much more sensitive to the impacts of regulations on farmers or ranchers. There will be new regulations, he says, but they will be thoroughly vetted and tested to ensure they do what intended, without unintended consequences. He says there already is too much uncertainty in agriculture due to markets, weather, etc., without regulations adding more.
He believes the EPA under a Romney administration would shift away from mandates and more toward voluntary programs, working with farmers and ranchers to identify systems that protect the environment without creating undue economic challenges.
Regarding energy policies, and specifically the wind-energy tax credit, Northey says a Romney Administration would look closely at tax policy, focusing on simplifying the tax code and reducing rates. Romney therefore opposes the wind energy tax credit. Northey says many in his state of Iowa want the credit to continue, but looking at overall picture, Romney supports an energy policy including building a pipeline from Canada, developing access to domestic energy and including renewable and traditional energy. Differences are like day and night between the candidates, he says, with Romney favoring an opportunity to become self sufficient in energy.
Adams asked Northey about the pending farm bill and the ability of the USDA to function following anticipated budget cuts. Northey says the agency will need to set priorities, as the administration will need to cut spending. Romney, he says, has talked about budget more than the Democrats. He wants to balance the budget and needs to find expenses to cut. Agriculture will be part of that effort and will take some painful cuts, but we can’t go on with trillion dollar deficits and their impact on the overall economy, he says.
The current administration, he says, has claimed credit for larger agricultural exports and growth in the agricultural economy, but does not take credit for bad overall economy. They also are not claiming credit for future problems if we don’t address deficit problems, which could include higher interest rates and weakening of the U.S. dollar. Currently, he says, the United States deficit level is only protected because we aren’t as bad as some other places, such as parts of Europe. If we put these problems in a different time frame, more would see them as something that needs to be addressed, he says. The current administration has not addressed them and won’t in a new term, according to Northey.
Adams asked Northey if he would consider an appointment to Secretary of Agriculture in a Romney Administration. Northey believes a lot of people would be ahead of him on the list, but says he would be proud to serve in Romney administration.
Wrapping up, he says we currently are dealing with an activist government that believes it owns our businesses, has a right to our estates and that lost revenue is tax money that people are not spending, as if it’s the government’s already. A Romney Administration, he says, would be about empowering opportunity for people, creating the structures that are necessary and encouraging trade, rather than creating uncertainty and fear. “I have a great deal of confidence that Gov Romney is the right person at the right time and the contrast could not be greater,” he says.