WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2016 - If any new major or even minor breakthroughs in the U.S. and China’s agricultural trade relationship are going to happen in the foreseeable future, it will likely be under the Trump administration. 

That may be difficult given the anti-China rhetoric espoused by Trump during the presidential election that he won, but after the mostly-fruitless meeting last week between the two countries, little is expected in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

The much-ballyhooed annual trade meeting between high-level U.S. and Chinese officials produced some gains between the two countries on semiconductors and medical devices, but for agriculture, it was pretty much a dud. 

Just a stone’s throw from the White House, Chinese and U.S. negotiators sat across from each other at tables in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center for long hours over two days last week, but no major agricultural breakthroughs were reached.

U.S. hopes had been high this year. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had said agreements were possible on getting China to improve its biotechnology approval process. Farm groups were hopeful the countries could make progress on resuming beef and poultry trade.

None of those breakthroughs materialized in what will be the last U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting for U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Vilsack.

"We are disappointed that further progress was not made on agricultural biotechnology issues during the 27th JCCT,” Vilsack said in a statement that was released Friday evening, long after the Chinese delegation had returned home. "Although China has made some progress, it has not fully implemented commitments on agricultural biotechnology that it made to the United States which date back as far as September 2015. Those commitments still stand and the United States expects their full implementation.”

Biotech trait approvals still on hold in China. At a minimum, American farm groups had hoped that China would use the meeting to announce the approval of eight biotech traits that have been in the Chinese approval process for years. But that didn’t happen either.

"The U.S. will be watching the meeting of China’s National Biosafety Committee scheduled to take place next month, and expects that the remaining eight biotech traits will be reviewed based on science and risk, and accordingly approved,” Vilsack said.

"Lack of progress on biotech issues will continue to add years to the process of commercializing them, will slow innovation and set back global efforts to address food security and climate change.
The United States expects that China will fully implement its prior commitments and will work collaboratively with us to address these global challenges in the future."

Castro dies and Trump expresses hope for Cuba. Fidel Castro died Friday, assuring the former revolutionary leader of the Caribbean nation will never see a full resumption of trade between the U.S. and Cuba. The Obama Administration has been working for months to lift trade, commerce and social restrictions.

The U.S. farm sector has cheered on the Obama administration, hoping an eventual trade embargo would allow farmers to sell more corn, soybeans, poultry, dairy and rice to the Communist country.

Donald Trump was critical of the renewed U.S. ties to Cuba over the past year and he could reverse much of what President Barack Obama has done through executive actions and regulatory changes. But Castro’s death elicited hope from Trump for the Cuban people. 

Trump said in a statement: "While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve. Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

But for Trump to work with Cuba’s leaders and not revoke the Obama administration’s actions, there’s an expectation for more deal-making. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said, “President-elect Trump is going to be looking for some movement in the right direction in order to have any sort of deal with Cuba.  I mean, it can't just be nothing and then you get total and complete cooperation from the United States.  There has to be something, and what that something is, Chris, is yet to be determined.”

Registration open for USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum. The title for this year’s forum is A New Horizon: The Future of Agriculture and early registration is now open, according to the USDA. The department’s chief economist will be hosting the two-day event on Feb. 23 and 24 in Arlington, Va., and this time around you can stay in touch with the activities on Facebook for the first time.

Hosting a forum as a new administration takes over is always a tricky affair, according to USDA officials, but one theme expected to be highlighted is the importance of the Farm Credit System and the strength of the government safety net for producers.

He said it: “I don’t have a clue.” - Joe Glauber, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Initiative and a former USDA chief economist. Speaking last week at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, Glauber was asked what effect the Trump administration would have on the future of the annual JCCT meetings.


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