PORTLAND, Or – Looking to increase jobs and economic development in Oregon, Senator Ron Wyden said today that negotiations to open up Asian-Pacific markets and Congress’ consideration of a new Farm Bill offer opportunities to increase the domestic sale and international export of Oregon agricultural products.
“My guiding principle in improving the Oregon economy is that we grow things here, add value to them and ship them somewhere, and nothing says that more than selling more Oregon fruits, vegetables and other high-value products at home and aboard,” Wyden said. “Fortunately, we are at a point – domestically and internationally – where we can do something about both.”
Congress is beginning consideration of a Farm Bill that will guide U.S. agriculture policy for the next five years. At the same time, international free trade negotiations are underway between the U.S. and eight Asia-Pacific nations with the goal of tearing down trade barriers and opening doors to new markets.
Wyden made the comments during a roundtable discussion today with representatives from across the Oregon agricultural spectrum, including wheat, wine, beer, grass, fruit, nuts, berries and vegetables. The roundtable follows a that Wyden chaired to hold the Obama Administration accountable to dismantling trade barriers to Oregon agriculture and food exports. Wyden has publicly expressed frustration about the level of engagement that the administration has had with the public about the trade negotiations, and specifically about an absence of transparency.
Wyden said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations offer an opportunity to open markets in developed countries such as New Zealand and Australia, along with emerging markets like Vietnam and Malaysia. There is also a significant chance that Japan, one of the most closed markets to Oregon agriculture, will join the negotiations.
“If these negotiations are successful, iconic Oregon products such as beer, wine, blueberries, hazelnuts, cherries, pears and many more are going to be served at tables across the Asia Pacific,” Wyden said. “That means that fresh Oregon agricultural products won’t just appear in refrigerators in Portland and Eugene but in Kyoto and Kuala Lumpur. It’s going to be important that Oregon stakeholders are involved in the process to be sure that any agreement that is reached represents Oregon’s broad economic interests. I intend to facilitate that.”
Wyden pointed out that last year was a good one for Oregon agriculture exports, but more can be done.
“I believe that expanding exports is an enormous opportunity for Oregon farmers and producers to literally feed the Asia Pacific’s growing appetite for high-value food products,” Wyden said. “To fully tap this growing demand, American producers must look to the federal government to establish a level and sustainable economic playing field in the Asia Pacific region.”
On the domestic front, the draft Farm Bill passed last week by the Senate Agriculture Committee picks up on an idea proposed by Wyden’s Oregon Agriculture Advisory Committee to promote healthy eating and extends the use of electronic benefit transfers to food stands and farmers markets for SNAP recipients. The draft bill also promotes farmers markets and locally grown food, which will lead to greater awareness of local markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs as well increasing the sale of local foods to retailers, school, and federal institutions.
“If successful, instead of dishing out a steady diet of process, paperwork and limited options the federal government will allow schools to buy fresh produce from their neighbors rather than surplus food from a faraway government warehouse,” Wyden said.