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Potential International Trade Deals Could Affect Wisconsin’s Agricultural Industry

Professor Warns Of Job Losses While Prices Of Goods Decrease

Photo by Sakkra Paiboon

Closed-door negotiations for two major international trade agreements are underway, and both could impact Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would essentially create a free-trade agreement among the U.S., Canada, and 10 Asian-Pacific countries. Its negotiations are further along than a similar deal between the U.S. and the European Union.

These trade agreements would basically eliminate trade barriers, create sanitary guidelines and cut tariffs.

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Viroqua farmer and organic farm inspector Matt Urch is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with lawmakers about his many concerns over the deals. He said he’s worried that local farmers could lose government contracts and local food could be overshadowed in the marketplace.

“Southwest Wisconsin’s become a real hotbed for CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and programs like Viroqua’s Fifth Season Cooperative, where they’re providing food to institutions through local farmers. It’d just be a shame to see all those hard-fought victories negated by some multi-national corporation,” he said.

Jon Pevehouse, University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, said negotiators are likely working out local food issues, but it’s hard to say since deals are crafted privately. He said the agreements could open up more markets for Wisconsin farmers, but they could eventually be impacted by a surge in imports.

As for consumers, Pevehouse said food prices should come down, but at an expense.

“This is the classic political problem with trade,” he said. “When you sign free-trade agreements, people lose jobs. That’s a well-known fact. This leads to potentially immediate job losses because of competition. The flipside is, the price of goods comes down.”

Pevehouse said the trade agreements could make it easier for Wisconsin businesses to expand overseas, especially in Europe.