Farm groups on Tuesday reacted to President Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address, weighing in on the President's plans for trade, taxes and infrastructure.
Though the President focused on changes for the middle class, job creation and economic initiatives, key farm groups first focused on his comments regarding expanded ag trade in Cuba.
Changes to the United States' 50-year-old trade policies with Cuba -- starting with easing financial restrictions to advance trade between the two countries -- were first announced in December.
“We strongly support President Obama’s efforts to normalize trade and other relations with Cuba," American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said in a press statement. "American agriculture needs the same access to Cuban markets that so many other countries have. Easing trade financing restrictions is a strong beginning to U.S. food and fiber being accessible to Cuba’s 11 million consumers."
To faciliate more trade opportunities, Farm Bureau and other ag groups also have pushed for Trade Promotion Authority, which prevents Congress from adding amendments to agreed-upon trade deals. Ag groups suggest TPA gives trading partners certainty that amendments will not alter agreements.
The President's State of the Union initiatives included a call for Congress to get on board with TPA.
"Congress must pass bipartisan TPA legislation to strengthen U.S. negotiating positions in future trade agreements," Stallman said. American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan said the TPA is important to the ongoing negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation Asia-Pacific trade deal.
Its passage also would be key in negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement with Europe.
"Soybeans are the nation's leading farm export, and it's critically important that Congress pass and the President sign a completed TPA package that will lay the groundwork for robust and comprehensive trade agreements," Cowan said in a released statement.
On transportation, the President pushed modern ports, stronger bridges and faster trains. He noted that legislators on both sides of the aisle support such advancements. After a year plagued with sluggish rail transportation, and as the Panama Canal expansion moves forward, Cowan said the President's pledge for infrastructure was welcome.
"We cannot improve trade without modern ports," Cowan said. "We depend on ports in nearly every coastal region of the United States to carry our soybeans abroad, and we must continually invest in this supply chain to stay ahead of our foreign competitors."
Building on initiatives announced last week, and previous statements, the President said infrastructure to support faster internet also will be a priority. Part of the President's plan includes removing barriers to internet service provider competition and boost loan opportunities for rural providers.
"The president's support for bringing broadband and wireless services to 'every community' including those in rural America is extremely important for our farmers, especially in light of the precision agriculture tools we use in our operations," Cowan said.
Finally, AFBF's Stallman addressed concerns about the President's plans for tax reform, which include changes to taxation of inherited assets.
“We remain resolute that tax laws must protect the family farm," Stallman said. "We need to continue to have tax policies that do not punish capital-intensive businesses like farms and ranches, and that do not hinder sons and daughters from following the agricultural legacy of their parents."