Doud, McKinney discuss ag trade turmoil |

Doud, McKinney discuss ag trade turmoil

ARLINGTON, Va. — When Congress established the position of Agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the 2014 farm bill, some agricultural leaders noted that the government already had a chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and wondered whether the two officials would come into conflict.

But on Thursday Ted McKinney, the first person to hold the undersecretary position, and Gregg Doud, the chief agriculture negotiator, said they talk every day, sometimes several times a day, and support each other.

At the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, Doud compared trade negotiating to a car dealership, with McKinney, who is in charge of the Foreign Agricultural Service and the market promotion programs at USDA, working in sales and he in the service department.

“I think this is working pretty well,” Doud said during a discussion of trade issues. “Ted does some things, I do some things. Sometimes we do things together.”

He also credited “two of the greatest public servants of all time,” USDA Trade Counsel Jason Hafemeister, who moderated the session, and Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, assistant U.S. trade representative for agricultural affairs and commodity policy.

“There are extraordinary things happening in terms of agricultural trade,” Doud said.

“This is one of the most memorable times in global agriculture,” McKinney agreed. “We are in a time when we are revisiting what it means to have free, fair and reciprocal trade.”

“We cannot continue the way it has been,” he added. “We have to reform it, we have to revisit it. Fair is fair, free is free, and that is what we must aspire to. That’s what gets me up every day.”

Doud declined to give any details when asked what he hoped to achieve with China and Japan in terms of agriculture, saying “I will not make any news in regards to that.”

But, he said, “We’ve got to think in terms of turning over every possible rock we can find. China is a big rock. Japan is another one.”

Asked about the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the recent Australian-Japan bilateral trade deal on the U.S., Doud said “We have to figure out a way to get back even here.”

“Time is of the essence. I’m not going to prejudice what a negotiation is going to look like. But if you come away with anything, come away with a sense of urgency on my part in regard to trade with Japan.”

“We can’t get to Japan fast enough,” McKinney agreed, noting that there is a “genuinely warm relationship” with Japan, and that the Japanese appreciate the safety and quality of U.S. agricultural products. “With that said, price can wear away” relationships, he said, citing an urgency to get a trade deal with Japan “to maintain the friendship as well as markets.”

Both Doud and McKinney also expressed frustration in dealing with the European Union, particularly over biotechnology issues like a refusal to accept products involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “They need to get with the program regarding technology, and regarding trade in the 21st century. It’s time to change,” Doud said.

“It is not easy to see,” McKinney agreed,” noting that the EU wants to exclude agriculture in trade talks with the U.S. “It is deeply, deeply frustrating.”

“There are many differences that separate us, but many more that bind us,” McKinney said, searching to present a positive outlook on negotiations with the EU. “Can we come together on some things?,” he said, noting that the food and agriculture issue “will not be easy. It will be brutal,” and that “the rhetoric coming out of Europe has a tainted view of products in the U.S.”

“I can’t express my frustration with European agriculture and the way they deal with things like biotechnology,” Doud said, and McKinney agreed that EU regulations on GMOs and biotech products have to change.

“They work every single day to usurp and thwart us on this effort,” Doud said, noting that McKinney has been working to help them understand what technology does to benefit farmers everywhere in the world.

“We have got to keep innovating,” McKinney said, adding that technology such as gene editing presents an opportunity for improved plant and animal health.

Asked about trade relationships with the United Kingdom if and when it leaves the EU, Doud said “We would welcome the U.K. as a free-trade partner with the U.S.,” but said the U.K. “should decide how this should be.”

Doud said some countries seem to be developing a notion that “we want to grow our food in our own country and not import it from anybody else.”

“It kind of feels like we are coming back to this,” he said, saying perhaps it is the result of a feeling that the world is too uncertain.

McKinney said he and Doud are in their jobs to make sure the U.S. is “doing right by farmers and ranchers,” but that negotiations with other countries can’t begin with an “I win, you lose” goal.

“It has to be a two-way street,” McKinney said. “We’re looking for win-win. I think that’s what our president is looking for.”

–The Hagstrom Report