RALEIGH — North Carolina tobacco growers have taken exception to a letter signed by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and his counterparts that supports excluding the crop from a pending international trade agreement.
“I’ve heard an earful about it this week while talking with farmers at the Southern Farm Show,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said today before speaking at the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina’s annual meeting. “Tobacco farmers are mighty upset, and understandably so.”
The National Association of Attorneys General recently wrote to U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman, saying that including tobacco in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement could “jeopardize the states’ ability to regulate tobacco products.” Cooper was among the attorneys general from U.S. states and territories who signed the letter.
Troxler said Cooper and his counterparts are taking too narrow a view of the issue.
“Excluding tobacco from this agreement would limit our farmers’ ability to sell tobacco in the international market,” Troxler said. “And if we carve tobacco out of this trade agreement, it could open the door to excluding other commodities from future trade agreements. My fellow agriculture commissioners and I across the country have fought hard against carve-outs at the national level, not just for tobacco, but for all commodities.
“International trade is critical to tobacco farmers and the North Carolina economy,” he said. “Two out of every three rows of tobacco find their way into the export market. That’s over a half-billion dollars of tobacco leaf each year, and those exports support more than 22,000 jobs in our state.
“North Carolina needs to grow jobs,” Troxler said. “We do that by tearing down international trade barriers, not handing our competitors around the world free rein to set up barriers to keep North Carolina tobacco out of overseas markets.
“I’ve spoken with Gov. Pat McCrory about this issue, and he stands with the growers, too,” Troxler said. “In fact, he has written a letter to U.S. trade negotiators in the past opposing a carve-out for tobacco.”