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USDA Chiefs Rally for USMCA
Friday, September 20, 2019 2:04PM CDT
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- At least part of China's trade team negotiating in Washington, D.C., this week will take some time to visit U.S. farms, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue confirmed Thursday.

Perdue was asked about the farm visits at a press event with three of his predecessors to champion the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Perdue said he did not know what commodities the Chinese delegation is interested in seeing.

"That's really up to China," he said. "Obviously, we know that their pork herd has been decimated by African swine fever and they are in the market really aggressively with pork, swine and soybeans at this time. We hope that goes to other issues. They know our shopping list, and we hope they come and are prepared. We're glad the conversations are continuing and we hope they will be fruitful."

CNBC reported the Chinese delegates will visit farms near Bozeman, Montana, and Omaha.

"I think they want to see the production of agriculture," Perdue said of the visits. "And I think they are trying to build good will, and we welcome that."

Perdue stood with former agriculture secretaries John Block, who served under President Ronald Reagan; Dan Glickman, who served under President Bill Clinton; and Tom Vilsack, who served under President Barack Obama. Other former secretaries joined a letter to encourage Congress to vote on the USMCA.

Vilsack said he thinks if there is any one issue upon which all secretaries of agriculture can agree, it's the importance of trade to American agriculture, as he cited that roughly 30% of all farm production ultimately ends up exported.

Agriculture has been one industry putting a full-court press on Congress to pass USMCA. Besides the secretaries holding their event on Thursday, a farmer-led event last week also stressed the importance of getting the trade deal done.

Asked if the secretaries were worried about the prospects for USMCA, Perdue said, "I wouldn't say we are worried. We're encouraging Congress to understand the cross-party, cross-generational (group) of people who have been in this position (who) feel this is a good deal."

Vilsack, now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said USMCA will eliminate a dairy pricing scheme in Canada that has discriminated against U.S. dairy farmers.

"This has certainly caused our dairy producers a lot of heartburn and lowered the price of powdered products," Vilsack said.

For dairy, USMCA translates into about $300 million more in additional sales. For now, the U.S. has been able to maintain its percentage of sales to Mexico despite Europe already having a new trade agreement with Mexico that specifies certain cheeses or other products must maintain geographical indicators. A side agreement to the trade deal will ensure U.S. exporters won't lose sales of commonly named cheese products. Where U.S. dairy exports have been hurt in such a fashion is Japan because other competitors have trade agreements there.

"Our Mexican market is still in good shape," Vilsack said. "The challenge, though, is if we don't get this agreement through, we will still face a very closed market in Canada."

Glickman credited Perdue for "doing his best to ensure farmers have access to world markets" in the midst of global trade battles and keeping President Donald Trump from withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement while trade talks continued.

Glickman stressed USMCA is important for national security given that it involves border countries.

"We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" when it comes to a trade deal, Glickman said.

Block said USMCA could provide momentum for trade deals with Japan and possibly China as well.

"NAFTA was good, but this is much better," Block said. "USMCA is better, we all know it is better. It's better for farmers. It's better for labor and for business. Get it done and let's move on to the next."

Besides the letter from the secretaries, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also sent a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday urging Congress to vote on USMCA.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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