ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson of Pennsylvania, the second highest ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, kicked off the 2019 International Sweetener Symposium, sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance, on Aug. 5 by telling sugar producers that his vision for the committee’s future is to “achieve a robust rural economy.”

“This requires the right farm policy for all our commodities, including sugar, that exceeds the expectations of our farm families,” Mr. Thompson said. “If we can exceed your expectations, then rural America is going to do quite well.”

Mr. Thompson, who is the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, explained that he would continue to be a vocal supporter and champion for U.S. sugar producers. Sugar policy is part of the 2018 farm bill and attempts to weaken it by a handful of opponents during debate on the House floor last were rejected by a 144-vote margin. He thanked the audience for their efforts to help secure a farm bill that was passed on-time, and he pledged to continue to fight attempts to weaken sugar policy in the next farm bill. 

In addition to maintaining a strong farm safety net, which included crop insurance, Mr. Thompson outlined other areas that he thinks are important for the House Agriculture Committee and Congress.

“The greatest challenges before agriculture are regulatory reform and resolving trade agreements,” he said. “Tackling both of those areas will help our farmers compete on a level playing field.”

Mr. Thompson also pointed to rural development, including rural broadband dissemination, and expanded skills-based educational opportunities as key to helping small towns rebound from current economic challenges and thrive.

Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also speaking at the symposium, noted that it was important to pass the bi-partisan 2018 farm bill even if it wasn’t perfect.

Both congressmen also cited the critical role of trade for the U.S. agricultural economy.

“America needs smart trade and it needs fair trade, but we still need trade,” Mr. Hudson said, noting significant job losses in the textile industry in his home state of North Carolina “due to bad trade deals.”

Both stressed the need for the United States to move on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which already has been ratified by Mexico and Canada.

“We need to get U.S.M.C.A. ratified as soon as possible,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that he thought there were enough votes for it to pass in the House. “Other countries will think we are serious about trade if we get U.S.M.C.A. passed.”

Mr. Hudson added, “We can all agree NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is being replaced by U.S.M.C.A.) is outdated. We (need) to have debate and vote.”

They also noted challenges concerning the trade war with China. Mr. Hudson said China’s growth has been cut in half since the tariff began last year, and that China “has to blink” if the United States shows resolve.

“If we don’t do it now, it’s never going to happen,” he said.

He said an even trade balance with China wasn’t a likely outcome, “but we need some concessions.”

Mr. Thompson said he was optimistic about trade with China.

“They need us,” he said.