Whitley of FAS: US exports doing well without new agreements
VAIL, Colo. — Although the Biden administration is not pursuing new free-trade agreements that involve reducing tariffs, U.S. agricultural exports “are on fire,” Daniel Whitley, the administrator of the Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service said at the International Sweetener Symposium .
The event was sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance, an organization of beet and cane growers.
The current forecast for agricultural exports is $192 billion, which follows last year’s record of $177 billion, Whitley said.
Buyers in other countries are very impressed by “the resilience and reliability” of American agricultural and food products, Whitley said.
The United States set agricultural export records during the coronavirus pandemic and amid supply chain problems, he added.
Whitley also noted the accomplishments of convincing the Mexican government to accept American potatoes throughout the country, of convincing the Japanese not to limit U.S. beef imports even though a safeguard mechanism had expired, and of the United Kingdom’s decision to lift retaliatory tariffs on distilled spirits and farm products in exchange for the United States removing Section 32 tariffs on British steel and aluminum.
He also said the recent agreement with Kenya is the last step before a free-trade agreement.
But USDA is not “pleased” with Canada’s performance on the dairy provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, Whitley said. “We think they’re not holding up their end of the bargain,” he explained.
China is still the biggest market for U.S. agriculture, but “we are diversifying,” he added, noting that USDA is leading several trade missions abroad this year including upcoming trips to Kenya and Spain.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity is not a free-trade agreement that will reduce tariffs but it will be an opportunity to address food safety, biotechnology and other regulations, Whitley said. Southeast Asia, he noted, represents some of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a growing middle class interested in eating outside the home.
FAS, he said, had an office in Kyiv in Ukraine and even though American employees have returned home, the four local staff members there are providing the most reliable data on supply chain disruptions to the White House, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Whitley described Doug McKalip, an adviser to Vilsack and President Biden’s nominee to be chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as “a friend of agriculture,” and said he looks forward to him being confirmed.
He also said he hopes that Alexis Taylor, the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Biden’s nominee for agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, gets “over the hump” in the process of getting a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee and the votes to be confirmed.
He noted that the Biden administration has started the Coalition on Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation (SPG Coalition) and said he believes the United States can meet the demands for production and sustainability and will not need to cut the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program. Noting that he had traveled to Iowa State University with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Whitley said he believes methods can be developed to help farmers use fertilizer more efficiently.
The EU Farm to Fork program “is extremely detrimental and dangerous,” he said.
On the World Trade Organization, Whitley noted that his first job in FAS was working on the Doha round of trade negotiations, adding that the WTO is “slow, it is not meeting the needs of the majority of its members.”
But the good news, he added, is “there are a lot of like-minded countries that want it to work.”
“Global trade needs a recognized international trading body. Going alone can be disruptive and dangerous and upset the apple cart. We have to put in the effort to make it functional,” he said.
“India has been a problem in the WTO as long as I can remember,” Whitley said. “It is hard to bring them along in a consensus-based organization where they have to open up their markets and abide by a set of rules.”
The United States has “to be creative” in working with India and the least developed countries, he said.
Whitley concluded by acknowledging that trade is not popular with many Americans these days.
While farmers know the value of trade, “unfortunately there are a number of our fellow Americans who don’t feel that way about trade,” he said. “The administration is trying to educate them” and “craft paths forward that take into consideration the interests of all the American people. That takes time.”
“Some see it as inaction,” Whitley said finally, but “the administration listens to everybody.”
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