As I write this letter, I am certain about only one thing when it comes to international trade—by the time you read this, the world will have changed significantly.
Rather than use this space to debate the benefits and costs of any one approach to trade policy, I believe it will be helpful to review what trade means to the cotton industry.
FACT #1: Cotton grown in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico will be exported in large part to Vietnam, China, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico. Trade and political risks related to many on this list are covered in the news daily. These six countries purchase 70% of all U.S. exports.
FACT #2: Cotton exports are the primary driver of value for growers. U.S. consumption of cotton equals 3.5 million bales annually. Without exports, cotton prices would not sustain production on 12-13 million acres in the U.S.
FACT #3: There is no revenue replacement for exported cotton. The value of the cotton crop in the export market exceeds $5.5 billion annually. The gap created by the loss of even a portion of that total creates a negative economic impact on growers and handlers of the crop.
Cotton growers and merchandisers have worked diligently for decades to build markets for U.S. cotton around the world. Essential to developing those markets has been time (i.e. patience), reliability and trust. Trade actions that unravel those elements pose risks to the structure of farming and related businesses. The capacity to gin, store and ship the crop has been growing based on the belief that our export markets will be healthy for years into the future. Trade actions that erode confidence in those markets will undoubtedly slow capital investment in gins, warehouses and infrastructure.
Trade policy changes need to be considered in light of their impact on the entire supply chain starting from the farm and continuing downstream. It is important for growers to communicate the value of exports to their communities and the policy makers that represent them. Let us hope that we won’t easily surrender what has taken years of hard work and investment to build.