Washington, Oct. 5, 2017 – Renegotiating trade relationships with countries like Mexico, Canada and South Korea is the major focus of U.S. negotiators now, but the USTR and USDA should not wait to begin making inroads to foreign buyers that could be importing a lot more U.S. wheat, corn, beef, pork and dairy. That was one of the main messages to lawmakers Thursday from Gregg Doud, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the chief agriculture negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative.
The U.S. exports about $140 billion worth of agricultural products every year, but that’s not enough, said Doud (pictured in the middle of the above photo), who is currently president of the Commodity Markets Council, but made much of his reputation in Washington as chief economist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“Keeping in mind that the evolution of more liberalized trade in agricultural products takes a great deal of patience, we must also get started today in planting new trees of market access even though it may take time before we’re able to enjoy some shade from such efforts,” Doud told members of the Senate Finance Committee. “In this category, India certainly comes to mind as a place, which, before long, could grow to be the most heavily populated nation on the planet.”
It was the kind of message that likely sat well with committee member Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who was Doud’s boss several years ago when Doud was the trade policy advisor for the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Roberts often talks about the benefits of increased trade and the need for more exports to help offset the downturn of the U.S. farm economy, which suffers under low commodity prices and high stocks.
“If we don’t do something quickly, this farm situation is going to become even more difficult – and it’s difficult right now,” Roberts said at the hearing. “We have to export our product, so I’d ask you … to do what you can to get our trade policy back to being robust.”
Doud, in his testimony, said that was his goal if he was confirmed.
“As I have discussed with (U.S. Trade Representative) Robert Lighthizer, when it comes to trade agreements, U.S. agriculture plays offense,” Doud said. “Our nation’s farmers and ranchers grow world class products and should be able to export to any market in the world and be competitive.”
And Japan should be a top priority, he said. Japan is already a major market for U.S. beef and pork exports, but U.S. exporters are at a disadvantage to countries like Australia that already have free trade agreements with the Asian country.
“We are at a particularly critical juncture in terms of our competitiveness for U.S. meat exports to Japan,” said the former NCBA economist. “Failure to address the situation immediately does not bode well for our fiercely competitive and rapidly expanding production of beef, pork and poultry.”
Also testifying at the hearing were Jeffrey Gerrish, who is nominated to be a deputy USTR, and Jason Kearns, who has been chosen for a term on the U.S. International Trade Commission.
The only fireworks during the 90-minute hearing came from Democrats who reacted sharply to reports that Gerrish voted illegally in the last presidential election. Gerrish admitted to the senators that he had returned to Virginia to cast a ballot even though he had moved to Maryland several months earlier.
Gerrish promised lawmakers that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong and he was only guilty of a “good faith oversight.”
But that didn’t satisfy senators like the ranking Democrat Ron Wyden, who called the explanation “implausible.”
Chairman Orrin Hatch told Agri-Pulse that he did not expect the issue to scuttle Gerrish’s nomination.
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Hatch said. “He’s very qualified.”
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