Tobacco Farmers Want Access to Trade Pact

With U.S. trade representatives currently negotiating a major trade agreement between eight Pacific Rim nations, American tobacco farmers are worried that their profits might go up in smoke if they are left out of the final trade deal.

The trade deal proposed by President Barack Obama could potentially double exports to the Pacific Rim countries of Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and New Zealand. American trade with these countries is already more than $200 billion. The trade deal would eliminate taxes and tariffs on exports and imports between signatories, boosting trade and boosting revenue.

Included in this increased trade would be American tobacco, currently a major export for farmers across the Southeast. With many tobacco farmers exporting up to 90 percent of their crops, trade deals that would eliminate tariffs are critically important.

However, some health organizations are lobbying the Obama administration to exclude tobacco from the final trade deal, urging him to put health concerns over commercial interest. Tobacco is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide, killing 6 million people every year.

However, tobacco is a major part of the American economy. It is a major engine of North Carolina’s $70 billion agribusiness industry and it employs hundreds of thousands of Americans nationwide. With American consumption of cigarettes down, tobacco farmers rely more and more on foreign markets. Given its legality, tobacco farmers and politicians from tobacco growing states are urging U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to treat tobacco like any other export.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer