To say that Sen. Jon Tester does not support the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“What I’ve always said is that TPP needs to be fair,” Tester said. “I’ve never said we don’t want to be part of it. (Trade) is critically important. Canada is our biggest trading partner, and the Pacific Rim, including Japan, is very important.”
Tester, back from the Capitol for Easter recess, took some time out from planting his fields to talk to reporters across the state during his latest rural call. Topics ranged from trade and hemp to taxes and infrastructure.
Tester said he has not yet seen the details on USMCA, and that is critical.
“It should be taken up in June, and my guess is it should pass,” Tester said. “But I also need to tell you that we don’t have a lot of meat on the bones of USMCA. I don’t have a lot of information yet. I intend to support it, but I want to see it.”
Tester said pulling out of TPP in the first place was a “huge” mistake.
“That empowered China, who is our biggest competitor,” Tester said. “And Japan is now pulling grain from Australia.”
Now the administration has to try to “put the toothpaste back into the tube,” Tester said.
“It’s going to be very difficult.”
In the meantime, the uncertainty in the market and the political situation are putting downward momentum on grain prices. That deepens the pain from drought and other pressures on farmers.
“If you took away the farm subsidies from farmers right now, you’d see an incredible amount of poverty,” Tester said. “We absolutely have to have (trade). We are a state that ships out an incredible amount of our product domestically. We are dead in the water without trade.”
Tester sees hemp, meanwhile, as a potential bright spot for Montana farmers, but down the road. It’s not real yet.
“But there’s a lot of upside,” he said. “It can be built for both seeds and fiber.”
Tester said he’ll be surveying the situation in Montana, to see where there is potential for expansion. He’ll also be meeting with international investors interested in building processing plants for hemp in the United States.
“It’s not certain where that processing might locate,” Tester said.
While Montana is an option, so are Kentucky, New Mexico and other states.
In the meantime, hemp can still serve as another crop in the rotation, even if the market is small.
“It’s not going to be close to the quantity of wheat or other grains, or even pulses, but you could put a hundred acres in and rotate it through your land and do some good things for soil and make some money on it,” Tester said. “That is the bottom line.”