The American Farm Bureau and other ag groups have been campaigning for the Biden administration to get more active on the trade front. Dan Whitley is the administrator of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. He recently spoke at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Atlanta and outlined the administration’s trade policy.
“This administration’s trade policy agenda will encompass four principles, I think: Middle class, a trade policy where the middle class can see itself: number two, trade policy that works for our manufacturing sector: number three, a trade policy that meets the administration’s priorities on labor; number four, a trade policy that meets the administration’s priorities on the environment. That’s what I kind of think we’ll see come out of USTR deliberations and consideration of what the administration’s trade policy agenda should look like.”
Whitley says he can see agriculture fitting in well with all four of those priorities.
“Let’s start with the middle class. We know there are two million family farms in the United States, and 75 percent of those family farms earn less than $50,000 a year on the farm. That is true blue, core middle class. You can’t think of a better definition than that, so we know agriculture fits into the core definition of the middle class. The second piece is manufacturing. Now, this might surprise some of you: agriculture is the third-largest manufacturer in the country. It surprised me when I learned this. When I heard that, I thought, okay, it’s probably behind automotive or some other steel commodities. No, that’s not true. Number one and number two are chemicals and computers. Agriculture is a bigger manufacturer than the automotive sector. So, when you talk about a trade policy that encompasses the interest of manufacturing, agriculture has got to be under serious consideration of what it needs.”
Labor is another important part of the administration’s trade policies, and agriculture also fits in well.
“Over 60 percent of our foreign workers have health insurance; that blows away a lot of our competitors, both in developed and developing countries, and many of those have employer-provided health care. Not only that, but there are also fewer safety complaints from our foreign workers compared to any of our competitors around the world. So, we treat our labor, our farm workers with dignity, with respect, and provide them with the tools to help us be successful. And then, the last piece is on the environment. I got a real good lesson in the last few months from many of our industries. We brought several of them in to talk to us about what they’re doing concerning sustainability, climate change, and some of these other priorities. I was blown away with how much you’re already doing, how much you already caring for the environment, with how much respect you’re already given back to the land and the soil.”
Several agriculture groups have expressed interest in the possibility of rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now known as the CPTPP. Whitley says the administration is taking a different approach.
“From what I understand, right now, there’s no active movement on rejoining TPP. Obviously, TPP has taken on a different shape since we left it behind. It’s brought in some other members, and a lot of people thought that this would be a way to get to Southeast Asia. But what I think is happening in the Indo-Pacific strategy, the development of that initiative is sort of taking the place and allowing us to sort of dictate what issues we talk about, what we talk about in sequence, and then how we can build momentum around ideas of like-minded countries and trading partners and sort of push policies and push initiatives in that part of the world with our influence.”