This week is deemed National Agriculture Week and we in the 23rd District of Texas are certainly grateful for the hard work of farmers and ranchers year-round.
Folks in the agriculture industry toil around the clock to produce goods that we consume every day from the clothes on our backs to the food on our tables. The industry supports more than 3.75 million Texas jobs paying $160 billion in wages and we simply cannot overstate its importance on our economy.
Many folks aren’t aware of the benefits of trade for Texas agriculture. In 2016, Texas exported $11.3 billion in total food and agriculture goods, and more than 40 percent went to NAFTA partners. While there’s no question that we need to modernize NAFTA to account for evolving industries and emerging technology, scrapping the deal altogether would be particularly harmful for Texas farmers and ranchers.
For example, one sector that benefits immensely from trade with our Northern and Southern neighbors is beef. Texas cattlemen and women sell roughly $338 million in beef to Mexico every year – approximately 35 percent of all American beef and veal exports are to Mexico alone. Similarly, total US beef exports to Canada and Mexico have almost tripled since NAFTA was signed.
This is why Texas raises more calves than anywhere in the United States and is the 14th largest cattle producing region in the world. Without unfettered access to Mexican and Canadian markets, Texas’ $10.5 billion beef industry would take a major hit.
Our cotton growers have also benefitted tremendously from free trade with Mexico and Canada. Mexico is a reliable and important market for U.S. cotton fiber, buying one million bales each year. Mexico is also our country’s second largest cotton textile and apparel market, buying fifteen percent of the nation’s total exports.
Likewise, Canada and Mexico accounted for almost 20 percent of U.S. fresh fruit exports and roughly 65 percent of fresh vegetable exports, totaling $7.2 billion. Unsurprisingly, when Mexico applied temporary tariffs to some of our produce in 2009, those industries lost $65 million that season. For Texas farmers, this demonstrates the direct correlation between free trade and economic growth.
In a lecture in 1970 when he won the Noble Prize, agronomist Norman Borlaug said, “Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply.” In my district, over 9,000 farms and ranches employing thousands of hard-working people ensure our civilization is continuing to evolve.
In order for them to continue this vital task they need access to new markets, which is why I will continue to advocate for a modernized NAFTA. Agriculture is critical to our economy and its critical to our survival.
We should all have the backs of the hardworking folks that do this noble work.
A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.