The Senate on Thursday confirmed USDA adviser Doug McKalip to be the Biden administration's chief ag trade administrator, one day after a key Senate Democrat lifted a hold on the nomination.
In a last-minute flurry of confirmations, the Senate also approved Jose Emilio Esteban’s nomination to be USDA’s undersecretary for food safety. Esteban has been serving as chief scientist for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the agency he will oversee as undersecretary, since 2018 and has been at the agency since 2001.
Both nominations were approved by voice vote.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed a second key agricultural trade nominee by approving Alexis Taylor to be USDA's undersecretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
McKalip's confirmation to serve in the Office of U.S. Trade Representative comes two years into an administration that has frustrated some farm groups and lawmakers who would like to see the White House be more aggressive in opening markets.
During his confirmation hearing in July, McKalip stressed repeatedly that will fight to increase U.S. ag export opportunities overseas, even if he isn't negotiating new trade agreements.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez later put a hold on McKalip as leverage to get assurances from U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai that the administration’s trade policy was serving U.S. economic interests. But Menendez lifted his hold on McKalip Wednesday afternoon after what a spokesman termed "a productive meeting" with Tai.
Daryl Cates, president of the American Soybean Association, welcomed the confirmations of McKalip and Taylor.
"Their responsibilities within those roles, and how they work with farmers to help us with trade, markets and more, are essential to our day-to-day jobs out on the farm—and touch every farm state in the country,” Cates said in a statement.
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National Grain and Feed Association President and CEO Mike Seyfert said McKalip "is exceptionally qualified to lead in this role, which NGFA members have been eager to see filled so that U.S. agriculture can be better represented and promoted in trade negotiations around the world."
McKalip has served a number of roles at USDA, most recently as an adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on trade, national security, animal and plant health regulations and other issues.
Esteban has also worked in various laboratory roles at FSIS, including executive associate for laboratory services and laboratory director for the western laboratory. He also has experience as an epidemic intelligence service officer, staff epidemiologist and assistant director of the food safety office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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