NAFTA, International Trade Focus of Panel

Published online: Jun 01, 2018 Articles Tad Thompson, The Produce News
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Source: The Produce News

Three key national agricultural policy influencers sat together in a historic limestone dairy barn outside Manhattan, Kan., on May 30. From deep in America’s heartland, international trade was the day’s key topic.

The featured guest, speaking to a couple hundred Kansas agricultural leaders packed between the cracking old walls, was U.S. secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue. Perdue was flanked by both U.S. senators from Kansas: Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. Roberts is the chairman of the Senate agriculture committee.

Perdue indicated that President Trump is entertaining the possibility of rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A presence in the TPP “would give us a leg up on global trade” and exclude China, while boosting trade with Pacific Rim countries that are part of the agreement. “TPP is the most effective trading tool against China going forward.”

Moran noted that Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP when he first became president “put us at a disadvantage” in trade, because the U.S. absence put China in a more powerful trade position.

Roberts said TPP helps American agriculture by opening the door to countries that want to do business with the U.S.

Regarding NAFTA negotiations, Perdue said, “We’re close to an agreement with Mexico.” He added that the president “has a unique negotiating style that farmers don’t understand,” but the Secretary of Agriculture believes “we’re making progress.”

Moran said the president “thinks Mexico is cooperating and Canada is not.”

Roberts indicated that NAFTA negotiations involving Mexico “are 85 percent complete.” He added that the Canadians are more difficult by insisting on maintaining exports of excess Canadian milk, while not wanting to loosen their own border.

Moran indicated that “it was the belief of some in the administration that people (in other countries) couldn’t afford not to buy U.S. ag products.” But he added that “we are making sure the administration understands” that countries such as Brazil are anxious to fill any trade vacuum should a U.S. trade agreement lead to lost markets for U.S. agriculture.

Roberts said that he and Perdue have traveled to the White House on many occasions to discuss agricultural issues with the president. International trade policy “always comes up,” Roberts added. He credits the president for opening China to a large volume of Nebraska beef imports. Although the meat wasn’t from Kansas, Roberts salutes the president with a step in the right direction.

It has been just over a year since Congress approved Perdue for his top agriculture position. He awaits Congressional approval for fewer than half of his nominated undersecretaries. But, the department still moves ahead because of “the crowd of civil servants in USDA who are 100,000 farm kids who want to do good things for agriculture.”

The meeting was held at River Creek Farms, an angus ranch that has been run by the Mertz family since 1890.

Perdue spoke at nearby Fort Riley, KS, on Memorial Day and had three public appearances around Manhattan on May 30.

Manhattan is home to the agricultural college Kansas State University, which attracts headquarters for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Farm Bureau and many state agricultural commodity groups.