The Senate Finance Committee plans to vote Sept. 7 on whether to send the nomination of USDA adviser Doug McKalip for chief agricultural trade negotiator to the full Senate for confirmation.

McKalip suffered through a contentious nomination hearing before the committee in late July. Several Republicans sharply criticized the Biden trade agenda and complained about the lack of progress on any new free trade agreements, the lapse of trade promotion authority, and the U.S. Trade Representative’s refusal to consider tariff-cutting deals in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

“The administration is crystal clear that it prefers to not pursue real trade agreements in favor of something it calls ‘frameworks,’ which lack crucial market access obligations,” Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the committee, said at the hearing. “This is confusing, since market access is the main problem our farmers and ranchers face.”

Several GOP members brought up similar concerns, but McKalip’s qualifications for the job were not a major point of the debate, and most committee members agreed that his is a pivotal role for the U.S. ag sector, which increasingly relies on international trade.

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“USTR’s ag negotiator is the key position that will insist on the elimination of foreign regulations that hamper food distribution wherever it takes place because that is what is needed to reduce hunger,” said Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore. 

Crapo stressed the importance of having a chief ag negotiator in place to work on expanding foreign market for U.S. farmers, but he also complimented McKalip’s band, BoxCartel, which has recorded two albums.

“You’re hitting the right notes there,” Crapo said. “With your trade policy experience, I hope that — if confirmed — you’ll also the right hit notes on improving opportunities for our farmers and ranchers.”

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