Perdue talks tough on Codex, NAFTA at trade association event
British farmers: Perdue to travel to London next week
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will travel to London next week to meet with British government officials to discuss the British withdrawal from the European Union, known as Brexit, and a free trade agreement with the United States, two British farm leaders who met with Perdue on Oct. 3, said.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom, and Barclay Bell, president of the Ulster (Northern Ireland) Farmers’ Union, said that they and farm leaders from Scotland and Wales had met with Perdue in the company of British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch.
The two farm leaders said a free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom may not be possible until Brexit is completed, but the agreement is important to consider because it is unclear whether the rules of U.S.-EU trade relations will apply to the UK once the UK leaves the EU.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been cheerful in every public appearance since taking office, but on Oct. 4 in a speech to the Washington International Trade Association, Perdue showed he intends to be tough on trade and does not like to be crossed in public.
In what may be considered a summary of his approach on trade, Perdue said that agricultural trade policy is “like policy toward North Korea — all options are on the table.”
President Donald Trump, Perdue noted, “campaigned on better trade agreements,” expects “more from our trading partners,” and is determined to enforce trade agreements.
Perdue sounded as though his decision to move the U.S. Codex from the jurisdiction of the Office of the Undersecretary for Food Safety to the Office of the Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs is final, even though the Food and Drug Administration said in comments to USDA recently that it could hurt U.S. efforts to promote agricultural trade because other countries will view that office as too close to industry.
Asked by The Hagstrom Report about the FDA’s comment letter that was made public on Oct. 3, Perdue said that he would never discuss interagency politics in the press and that it was “unfortunate” FDA did not raise the issue privately with him.
If he had a dispute with FDA, Perdue said, he would call up FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and talk to him about it.
Perdue said “our people at USDA” believe the food safety standards can be upheld while Ted McKinney, the undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs who was confirmed on Oct. 3, “can be more effective in competing with international groups that are using codex standards as trade weapons.”
Farm and agribusiness groups supported the move, but food safety advocates — including former USDA officials — have said it is unwise and may backfire.
On NAFTA, Perdue said he believes there is a “real opportunity” to open the Canadian dairy markets. He said he has been somewhat disappointed in the NAFTA rounds so far, but believes the next round will be an opportunity to bring up more serious agricultural issues.
In the question-and-answer session, Perdue mentioned the proposal to take action to address the complaints of Florida tomato producers about Mexican imports. Several members of the audience said they fear that making any proposal to help the Florida growers could endanger U.S. corn, soybean and meat exports. Perdue responded that the proposal is not finalized, but the trade lobbyists should remember that while much of agriculture has benefited from NAFTA, Florida tomato growers “are not rejoicing.”
Rather than sending tomatoes north when domestic tomatoes are not available, which is known as complementary trade, Perdue said the Mexicans had been “competitive” with the Floridians.
Moving on from NAFTA, Perdue said, even though China is the biggest market for U.S. farm exports, it also restricts U.S. beef, rice, poultry and corn products, that broader access for livestock products and biotechnology “still need work” and that he would like to talk to the Chinese about their cotton policy and convince them that U.S. food safety standards would work for them.
Due to the long security relationship with Japan, he said, the U.S. should have a “preferred status” for exports to that country, but instead Japan has granted preferences for Australian, European Union, Chilean and Mexican products.
Perdue also said he is interested in other Asian markets and that he is advising President Donald Trump on his upcoming trip to Asia.
He said he believes the United States is developing “a warmer and closer trade relationship” with Vietnam, but that India is a “tough market” that “doesn’t seem much inclined to change.”
Perdue did not mention Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would have addressed many issues with Japan and other Asian countries.
Perdue said he could not comment on the possibility of reviving the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. He noted that he met with the British ambassador and British farm leaders on Oct. 3, and said conversations with individual countries have gone better than those with the “overall umbrella” of the European Union and Phil Hogan, its agriculture minister.
When a man in the audience asked whether agriculture ministers had the political will to follow some policies, Perdue told the man he met with him personally, he didn’t raise the issue at that time and he would not discuss his question in public.
When another audience member asked for his views on the fact food purchases for the defense department and schools must be American products, Perdue replied that when purchases “are financed primarily by the American taxpayer, I think it is absolutely reasonable to have that ‘Buy America’ policy.” ❖
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