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U.S. Ag Trade Policies to Take Shape

USTR ambassador nominee confirmed while USDA creates trade undersecretary position

Elise Schafer headshot Headshot

The Senate voted 84-12 on May 11 to confirm Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, a veteran trade lawyer, as U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Feed and grain industry groups lauded the decision, as Lighthizer will play a critical role in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), expressed congratulations in a statement and said more officials who understand the impacts and importance of trade are needed.

“Lighthizer’s confirmation to USTR is an encouraging step in developing trade policies that continue to promote U.S. food and agriculture production,” Moore said.

Joel Newman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), said in a statement: “NAFTA, currently under the limelight, will be at the top of our list as the Trump administration moves forward with its plans to renegotiate the agreement’s terms with Canada and Mexico. We look forward to working with the new ambassador on the renegotiation of NAFTA and other trade accords to come.”

The administration had to wait for Lighthizer to be in place before triggering the formal process to begin renegotiating NAFTA.

Now that the Administration has formally informed Congress it intends to renegotiate NAFTA, there will be a 90-day consultation period. After the 90 days, negotiations with Canada and Mexico can begin August.

USDA reorganization underway

Meanwhile, in recognition of the increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on May 11 the creation of the USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

The announcement came as part of Perdue's reorganization of USDA, which also includes a newly named Farm Production and Conservation mission area and a restructuring of the Rural Development agencies to report directly to the secretary of agriculture.

In a statement released by USDA, Perdue said, “Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world. By working side by side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world.”

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) both commended Perdue for his action in reorganizing the department in a joint statement.
“It is highly significant that one of Secretary Perdue’s first actions reflects his recognition of, and strong support for, the essential role that agricultural trade plays in the economic well-being of U.S. farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, rural communities and the nation as a whole,” said NGFA President Randy Gordon and NAEGA President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Martin. “Reorganizing its structure and mission areas along these more functional lines, combined with the appointment of strong and capable officials to fill these positions, will help ensure the ongoing success of USDA programs that support trade.”
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