Whether it’s providing food to feed our families or fiber to clothe them, the Texans who work the land are integral to our daily lives. That’s why we need to do all we can to build on the success of policies that have helped them thrive, like trade.’

Last week we celebrated National Ag Day — a time to highlight the critical role our farmers and ranchers play in our communities. Whether it’s providing food to feed our families or fiber to clothe them, the Texans who work the land are integral to our daily lives. That’s why we need to do all we can to build on the success of policies that have helped them thrive, like trade.

There’s no question that international trade agreements help Texas ag producers. By connecting them to more customers around the world, our cattle ranchers and cotton farmers can find more markets, support larger operations, and ultimately, contribute more to the economy. With ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers outside America’s borders, it makes sense that we have a lot to gain by shipping cattle, cotton, and grain to foreign markets.

The North American Free Trade Agreement — or NAFTA — serves as a key example of just how well trade serves American agriculture.

Before the 1994 agreement, multiple barriers to trade existed, keeping continental trade at a minimum. But now, with full implementation of the agreement in effect, goods flow freely creating the largest free trade area in the world.

Since the creation of NAFTA, American agricultural exports have grown rapidly. In fact, U.S. ag exports to Canada and Mexico have almost quadrupled, solidifying our country’s place as the world’s top exporter of agricultural and food products.

Texas — the top exporting state in the country — has particularly benefited from the agreement. Our proximity to Mexico has made them our top exporting partner. That’s one of the reasons Select Milk Producers is investing in a new plant in Littlefield — one that will produce 400,000 pounds of powdered milk a day, much of it bound for Mexico. But as two of our top ag export markets, both Mexico and Canada buy a lot of Texas agricultural goods. Texas exports hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods like beef and veal, grain and cotton to Canada and Mexico each year. Simply put, Texas farmers and ranchers have gained more customers as a result of NAFTA.

Because of this significant trade, NAFTA serves as a driver of economic growth well beyond our farms and ranches, benefiting Americans throughout the country. Ag exports to Canada and Mexico support jobs in sectors far removed from the field like manufacturing, transportation and financial services. It’s estimated that agricultural exports to our NAFTA partners contributes more than a half a million American jobs. The impact of North American agricultural trade is estimated to have added more than $100 billion dollars to the overall economy in 2016 alone.

Fortunately Texans understand that agriculture — whether tilling the soil or driving cattle — isn’t just about jobs and the economy. It’s about preserving a way of life and a culture that Texans are known for. In the 21st century, keeping that tradition alive means making sure Texas agriculture has access to markets both at home and abroad. Deals like NAFTA ensure it.

There’s no question that NAFTA can be improved — there’s ample opportunity to help more people across the country who are negatively impacted by trade. But as conversations continue in Washington to make sure we get the most out of trade deals, I’ll continue to work hand in glove with our farmers and ranchers to guarantee greater access to more markets. That’s good for our ag community, good for Texas and good for the rest of the country, too.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.