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Now playing in Washington: Trade warfare

Exports are essential to the prosperity of U.S. agriculture. You could say that trade is the backbone of agriculture since about 25 percent of the total volume of U.S. farm production is exported, and many U.S. commodities have even a higher dependence on world trade.

Unfortunately, it seems U.S. agricultural trade has gone to the curb. World Trade Organization talks have been stalled for years and are one breath away from being dead. Instead of picking up the slack and passing bilateral trade agreements, Congress sits on its hands ignoring already-negotiated trade deals while other countries take advantage of our idleness. Consequently, what should have been significant trade opportunities for U.S. agriculture has turned into trade warfare in Washington.

This year, more than 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements will be negotiated around the world. Sadly, the U.S. will have a share in less than 20 of these trade deals. While President Barack Obama called for doubling U.S. exports over the next five years in his State of the Union address, getting Congress to act is another matter.

Whatever happened to the United States' golden age that was forward-thinking, opportunity-driven and ahead of the game in bridging the global divide? Now, our trade mantra seems to be more about protectionism, as opposed to expansion, giving way to 144 countries that have passed us in the trade arena and are currently negotiating or planning to negotiate trade deals that do not include the United States.

The U.S. used to be the John Wayne of global exports, but now we better resemble the cartoon character Droopy Dog.

While the United States is not opening markets through new trade agreements, many other countries are negotiating bilateral and regional agreements that are reducing the U.S. agriculture industry's competitiveness and market share around the world.

For example, while we urge Congress to expedite passage of the Colombia, Panama and Korea free trade agreements that have been held up in Congress for several years, the European Union is moving forward with its own Korea agreement and hoping it can beat us to the punch.

Agricultural trade is not only critical to the industry, but an aggressive trade agenda is important for the U.S. economy and the creation of American jobs.

It's estimated that the drop in agriculture exports from 2008-09 cost roughly 160,000 American jobs. So while leaders in Washington continue with what I call "happy talk" about job creation, when it comes to doing things that actually would create jobs -- like furthering global trade -- ;they aren't doing it.

The positive impact of exports, such as job creation, will continue to be diminished as long as the U.S. is not moving forward with an agriculture trade agenda. That's why it's critical we urge Congress to pass pending trade deals and work with the administration to seek new export opportunities instead of continuing with disruptive and damaging trade warfare.

As they say, the show must go on.

Bob Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation