Iowans have the privilege and responsibility of field testing presidential candidates and in return, they command an attention in our national policy debates that at times allows them to squeeze out a few goodies, such as ethanol subsidies, despite their inefficiencies. But with farming a pivotal part of Iowa’s economy, Iowans should be asking themselves what candidates are willing to do for them and the country beyond the ethanol pledge when it comes to agriculture sales, especially when there is low-hanging fruit to be plucked in this arena.
In July, the International Trade Commission (ITC) released a report estimating national earnings from lifting the ban on agriculture sales to Cuba. Applying trade and theory and pricing analysis to current sales, the ITC estimated the US could reap $320 million in agriculture sales to Cuba. And this was merely a counterfactual assessment–it estimated what sales might be if the restrictions on sales did not exist in 2006. But it openly admitted this to be a short-term, lower bound estimate that did not take into account dynamic returns and the ITC expects this figure to grow. Another study from a few years ago has projected upwards of $1.2 billion in agriculture sales alone.
From my rough estimates, combining the results of the ITC report and the previous study’s state by state analysis, Iowans could have taken home a 6% share of that $320 million and previous projections estimate Iowa’s annual gain to be $70 million in agriculture sales and an additional $200 million in downstream/spin-off effects. Even if the primary spike in sales comes from Southern poultry exports, the Iowa Ag Review has noted that for every pound of poultry sold an additional pound of soybean meal moves off market creating new demand. And a quick look at the USDA’s Iowa fact sheet would reveal that, behind corn, soybeans are Iowa’s meal ticket.
The share that Iowans could expect would rival most boondoggle subsidy programs and could be easily captured with some rational, commonsense policies that evade our antiquated US-Cuba policy thinking.
Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani bill themselves as pragmatic problem solvers and competent managers, but they’ve staked out fairly ideological positions on foreign policy. Though Mike Huckabee — who has recently garnered new attention and interest after his successful performance in Wednesday’s Republican debate — has at times gestured in this direction, he has not yet committed himself to a foreign policy that belies a commonsense pragmatism. And more importantly, he exhibits countervailing tendencies.
Huckabee appears more in touch with the struggles of his fellow constituents paying greater attention to bread and butter issues than the other leading candidates. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus put it, Huckabee “has the air of the nice neighbor who wanders by to discuss your crabgrass problem.” (He also plays the bass guitar in his own band, which performed at his Iowa straw poll party).
Coming from a state like Arkansas that stands to gain almost half a billion in agriculture sales to Cuba, Huckabee would have to consider this issue. And as he’s trolling for votes, caucus goers should pose the question to him to determine whether he’s willing to put the interests of Iowan and American farmers above an ill-thought out, ideological trade policy that harms our interests.
His second place finish in the recent straw poll shows Huckabee can do well in Iowa but he remains quite an unknown quantity and needs to distinguish himself in some way. Standing out on such a reasonable issue such as agriculture sales that benefits Iowa farmers might be the ticket to position himself against the ideological blinders of leading Republican candidates attracting more national attention and garnering the support of more Iowans. The ag sales position also offers Huckabee a boost in some critical regions — California, the Midwest, and the South. And it would call into question Romney and Giuliani’s pragmatist credentials when they opt to foreclose on opportunities for American farmers.
Perhaps this is an issue for Ron Paul or Sam Brownback, who have both expressed concerns over failed US foreign policy positions, though from very different angles. But one thing is for certain — this issue, like sales of chickens to Cuba, is ripe for the taking.