Major campaign issues cast shadow over food sector

by Keith Nunes
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At first glance it may appear as if issues affecting food and agriculture have been mostly absent from the debate over who will be elected the next president of the United States. Yet a closer look reveals two prominent issues critical to food and agriculture, immigration and globalization, have held center stage in the campaign discourse to date.

Immigration and a stable labor force has been a most vexing issue for food and agriculture producers during the past decade. The American Farm Bureau Federation is calling for a two-prong approach regarding immigration. The trade association’s members, which consist of some of the largest agriculture producers in the country, would like to see stability returned to the agriculture labor market through the creation of a market-based visa program that is available to both seasonal and year-round farmers. The group also is calling for the creation of an “adjustment status” to be created for experienced, but unauthorized agricultural workers who are in the United States so they may earn legal status over time.

On the issue of immigration the differences between the two presumptive nominees could not be starker. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, is calling for a wall to be built across the southern border of the United States to discourage the illegal immigration of individuals from Central and South America. Mr. Trump also rejects creating a path to citizenship for individuals who are currently residing and working in the United States illegally.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is calling for “comprehensive immigration reform” to create a path to citizenship for those individuals residing and working in the United States illegally. In addition, Mrs. Clinton says she will focus on promoting naturalization among the 9 million green card holders in the United States who are eligible to become U.S. citizens.

The issue of globalization simmered throughout the presidential primaries and came to a full boil in late June when a majority of voters in the United Kingdom voted to discontinue the country’s participation as a member of the European Union. The vote sent shockwaves around the world and made globalization a primary issue as both political parties head toward their respective nominating conventions later this month.

It is undeniable that globalization has significantly changed the food and agriculture industries in the United States. The relatively unencumbered flow of goods into and out of the United States allows producers and manufacturers access to new markets abroad and to import ingredients not readily available domestically.

Mrs. Clinton has vowed to “level the global playing field for American workers and manufacturers.” If elected, she said she will empower a new chief trade prosecutor to combat trade violations, and she says the United States must set a high bar for any new trade agreements, and only support them if they create jobs, raise wages and advance national security. She has come out in opposition of the Trans Pacific Partnership, because she says it does not meet those tests.

Mr. Trump’s focus has been on China and reforming the U.S.-China trade relationship. His goal, he says, is not protectionism but accountability by declaring China a currency manipulator, forcing China to abide by intellectual property laws and by putting an end to what he calls the country’s illegal export subsidies. In a June 28 speech in Pennsylvania, he also came out in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, and said he planned to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement as part of an effort to renegotiate the pact with Canada and Mexico.

As with any election, circumstances may shift the positions candidates take on specific issues. Yet it is clear at this point in the election cycle that two issues of significant importance to food, agriculture and the U.S. business community, in general, may play a critical role in who is elected the next president of the United States.
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