By Alan Stephens, Arizona State Director for USDA Rural Development: In rural communities, hard work is a way of life. You put in long hours, day in and day out, and, with the help of innovative technology, good weather and a little luck, you reap what you sow. Your hard work contributes to a rural economy that is one of the strongest in the world.

Alan Stephens

Whether you’re a farmer and rancher, a small business owner, or an employee at a rural business, you make products that are in high demand here at home and abroad. 

America’s farmers and ranchers, for example, exported a record $152.5 billion worth of products to other countries last year. Thanks to past trade agreements that have lowered barriers, aggressive monitoring and enforcement, and targeted promotion programs to help get our products on the shelves in foreign markets, the past six years have been the strongest in history for U.S. agricultural trade.

Here in Arizona, our farmers and ranchers do their part, with agricultural exports contributing $1,484,800,000 to the state’s economy last year. Farmers and ranchers who export know first-hand that Congress must act on bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority early this year. Without it, they’ll lose out on the opportunity to tap into new markets and better reach the ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers who live outside of our borders.

Trade Promotion Authority allows America to speak with one voice on trade. Congress sets the parameters for negotiations by the President and his team, and they can vote down the deal if they don’t like it and don’t think it is consistent with Congress’ instructions. 

With Trade Promotion Authority, everyone has a say, but ultimately, new trade agreements are passed, to the benefit of every American. Whether it is sending more beef or pork to Japan; poultry to Vietnam; or fruits, vegetables and grains to the growing Asian market, all rural businesses—farm and non-farm alike—stand to benefit from new and expanded trade agreements that will come as a result of Trade Promotion Authority.

 The impact of expanded exports reaches even deeper and further into our rural communities. With expanded sales, rural businesses create new American jobs up and down the supply chain. Agricultural exports alone support more than 1 million jobs here at home, a substantial part of the 11.3 million American jobs supported by exports overall. With more money in their pockets, rural business owners not only hire new workers, they spend more at local businesses, strengthening rural economies and supporting communities where more people want to live and work.

To stay ahead of the game in international trade, actively negotiate new agreements that ensure American products can compete on a level playing field, and continue the forward momentum of our rural communities, rural businesses need Trade Promotion Authority.

This tool has been put in place for Democrat and Republican Presidents alike and it allows the Administration to show a united front when negotiating with other countries and get the best deal for American farmers, ranchers, and workers. Until Congress passes Trade Promotion Authority, they force us to stand still as other countries make agreements that leave out American businesses and hold back our rural communities.

Arizona Farm Bureau’s Editor’s Note: American Farm Bureau Federation, Arizona Farm Bureau, as well as other agriculture-based organizations support American agriculture’s ability to have fair and open global trade and to expand existing markets for U.S. agricultural products. According to our most recent figures, the $17.1 billion Arizona agriculture industry exported $1.4 billion in agriculture product last year, according to the USDA. Our state's agriculture export story is a unique one (at the time of this export story, only 2012 figures for Arizona's exports were reflected).