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Minn. farmers, business leaders lament Pacific trade deal's demise

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President Donald Trump on Monday officially ended American participation in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal many Minnesota businesses saw as a way to boost exports to Asian markets. 

Other state groups, though, applauded Trump's move.

The end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the U.S. was abrupt but came as no surprise. During the presidential campaign last fall, both major party candidates said they opposed the plan. Still, the formal end of the deal was disappointing for Minnesota Business Partnership executive director Charlie Weaver.

"It's concerning," said Weaver. "Clearly global trade is really important to Minnesota. One in five Minnesota jobs depends on international trade."

According to a U.S. Department of Commerce analysis, nearly half of the state's $20 billion in annual exports go to the dozen or so nations that are part of the TPP negotiations; $1.5 billion goes to a subset of nations with no preferential trade measures. Under the TPP plan, tariffs those countries impose on industrial and consumer goods — that are as high as 59 percent now — would have dropped to negligible levels.  

"Half of the beans that we raise get exported, and these Pacific Rim countries are our customers," said Lawrence Sukalski, a Fairmont, Minn., farmer who sits on the boards of the American Soybean Association and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. The farm groups, he added, were disappointed by the news.

Minnesota is the nation's third largest soybean exporter, with sales of about $2 billion a year. One concern is that the end of United States participation in the agreement will open the door for Brazil and other soybean exporting countries to grab a bigger market share in the Pacific at the expense of U.S. agriculture. 

But not all farmers in the state are unhappy over the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

The Minnesota Farmers Union and the Land Stewardship Project both opposed the trade deal.  

"I think President Trump was right to pull out, it was the will of the people," said LSP Executive Director Mark Schultz. He called the Pacific trade deal a dream deal for corporate America but a loser for the working class and small farmers. Schultz said the deal could have driven grain prices down further. 

"It was written by corporate lobbyists and agribusiness and financial interests," said Schultz.  "And it would help those that are really involved and profiting from international trade.  But it wouldn't help family farmers."

Trump has also vowed to open up the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement for renegotiation. The stakes for Minnesota could well be higher there because Canada and Mexico are the state's two biggest trading partners.