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Local farmers divided over Trump's TPP withdrawal

From international shipments to your shopping cart, local experts say the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement would have affected everyone.

However, now that President Donald Trump has opted to withdraw from the agreement, local farmers and producers are torn on the issue.

One farmer who stood to gain from the TPP is Rex Calloway.

“My wife and I now run our farm as third generation,” he explains.

The Quincy area farmer primarily grows potatoes, with beans, corn, wheat and alfalfa on rotation.

His potatoes are sent to a processing facility that chops them up into frozen French fries, before being shipped around the world.

He says any problem with trade becomes his problem.

“It is a domino effect,” Calloway says. “It affects us greatly.”

The TPP agreement would have been a free-trade deal between the U.S. and about a dozen Asian countries, cutting tariffs on American exports. Local farmers say this would have boosted demand for home-grown products in Washington State.

“When we don't see these types of trade agreements go through, we have to compete globally, and so we lose out to our competitors: Canada, China, the European Union,” explains Matt Harris with the Washington State Potato Commission. “Millions of dollars. It all impacts rural Washington.”

However, other crop growers were less excited for the TPP.

Hay is a big one, often exported to Japan to feed dairy cows.

According to the Washington State Hay Growers Association, the TPP would have cut taxes on international diary products, likely shrinking the Japanese industry and demand for Washington hay.

Scot Courtright with the hay growers association says 30-40 percent of the state’s 6 million tons of hay is exported. After attending many meetings about the TPP, he worried hay growers could lose out.

“None of the details were shared, at least to my knowledge, making it very difficult to move forward,” says Courtright. “Congressional representatives or authors of the bill couldn't articulate very clearly what the benefits were, other than ‘it's going to be good.”

Looking ahead, Courtright hopes for more clarity in future trade deals and to see issues of port slowdowns on the coast addressed.

“Major disputes between shipping companies and labor,” says Courtright, referencing a two-month halt in Seattle two years ago. “That's something that's the biggest challenge accessing the market that we already have.”

The potato commission says trade deals like these impact every aspect of Pacific Northwest life.

“Our jobs in Washington State depend on trade,” says Harris. “And that's everything between a potato and a Boeing airplane.”

With 36,000 jobs, $7.8 billion, and 10 billion potatoes on the line, farmer Rex Calloway says for now, he will stay optimistic with Trump in office.

“We hope that this new administration follows through and develops some new trade partners,” he says. “[My wife and I] have two young boys, and hopefully they will come back to the farm as a fourth generation.”


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