President Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. Chief Ag Negotiator won high marks from both parties at his Senate confirmation hearing but is hemmed in by the White House’s ‘no free trade deal’ policy.
Doug McKalip will likely be confirmed by the Senate, and he vows to use his nearly thirty years of experience at USDA and the White House to fight for a level playing field for U.S. producers overseas. But Senate Finance members like Oklahoma’s James Lankford point to a problem McKalip has no control over.
“We’ve had the USTR in this room multiple times. We’ve had Secretary Raimando in to be able to talk about trade negotiations and what’s happening on the Commerce side, and the very clear message that we’ve heard over and over again is, ‘we’re not going to do trade deals. The president has instructed us, we’re not going to do trade deals.’”
Deals Lankford argues that will outlive administrations, unlike the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is executive actions and lack future certainty. But McKalip, clearly hemmed in by the president’s policy, pushed back.
“The farmers I talk to in a 30-year career with USDA, I think the reason they associate those three-letters, ‘FTA’ or free trade agreement with market access, they look back at past performance and what that has done for them.”
McKalip insists he can still make a difference for producers.
“I wouldn’t be taking this job, I wouldn’t be interested in it if I didn’t think I could make a difference for farmers. So, what they need, your ranchers in terms of meat products, your farmers in terms of row crops, it’s going to be incumbent upon me to deliver the kinds of results and to be an advocate within the system and abroad, to make sure that, at the end of the day, things that weren’t sent to these countries previously now we have an opportunity there.”
With an early focus on the U.K., Southeast Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa, adding that the ink isn’t dry on the Indo-Pacific Framework, and he’ll push on that for lasting enforcement tools.