The Herald-Leader's editorial about the inclusion of tobacco in free trade agreements ignores the significant contributions of tobacco growers to our state's economy. Further, the editorial board has a fundamental misunderstanding of how tobacco and other commodities are typically treated in free trade agreements.
The General Assembly recently — and unanimously — passed a resolution calling on the Obama administration to follow trade precedent and include tobacco leaf and tobacco products in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
We sponsored this resolution because tobacco remains one of Kentucky's leading export crops, with more than 80 percent of it grown for export. This regional trade agreement with eight Pacific Rim countries will have longstanding implications for thousands of Kentuckians who work in tobacco farming.
Our position is supported by Gov. Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and every member of Kentucky's congressional delegation. The fact is that all agriculture commodities are traditionally included in free trade agreements, but some inside the Obama administration are trying to carve Kentucky farmers and their products out of the deal.
We are simply asking for tobacco to be treated like all agriculture products have traditionally been treated.
If Kentucky farmers are carved out, they will not be competing on a level playing field with competitors in Brazil, Malawi and other tobacco-producing nations. At a time when our economy remains fragile, it is inconceivable that the administration would seek to disadvantage thousands of tobacco farmers who rely on exports to provide for their families.
While the editorial board may not approve of tobacco farming as an honorable and worthy occupation, we are proud to stand up for one of Kentucky's signature industries, particularly when it is threatened by out-of-state special interests.
It is a recent development for there to be controversy over tobacco's inclusion in major free trade agreements. In fact, the Obama administration's Department of Agriculture produced a fact sheet last September on the recently approved Colombia Free Trade Agreement touting the deal's economic benefits for tobacco growers.
The president's people inside the agriculture department got it right. When tariffs are reduced on Kentucky-grown tobacco, it is good for our state's economy. Tobacco growers are simply asking for the administration to follow the same logic it used last fall when trumpeting the benefits of the Colombian free trade deal.
Unfortunately, the administration is being lobbied by anti-tobacco activists who want to discriminate against Kentucky growers in an agreement that impacts three-quarters of our nation's agricultural exports. The issue isn't about whether people should or should not use tobacco, which remains a legal product around the world. The issue is whether the federal government is going to boost foreign farmers over American farmers.
Sound trade policy is essential to the economic well-being of just about everyone involved in agriculture, and free trade agreements shouldn't be policy-making vehicles for radical special interests who couldn't care less about American farm families.
President Barack Obama can either come down on the side of responsible trade policy that boosts exports and sparks economic growth, or he can bow to the pressure of special interests intent on destroying American jobs. Ridiculously, if the radical special interests get their way, there won't be any less tobacco consumed in the countries affected by this free trade agreement. Those countries will simply consume tobacco grown in foreign countries.
Can you imagine the federal government actively encouraging other nations to discriminate against legal, American-made products in any other sector?
This isn't a partisan matter; it is a clear-cut issue affecting the livelihood of Kentucky's tobacco farmers and the health of our state's agriculture economy.