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Trade Officials Talk in St. Joe

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, September 6, 2019

Top USDA trade officials met with farmers last Thursday in South Bend to discuss current issues. The roundtable took place on Lichtenbarger Farms. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski hosted the event in the hopes of pushing the U.S. Mexico Canada (USMCA) deal.

Joining Walorski at the round table were USDA Undersecretary Ted McKinney, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and director of Indiana State Department of Agriculture Bruce Kettler. Local farmers and others affected by trade tariffs were also invited to the roundtable.

"All eyes are on what we're going to talk about today, which is the importance of the USMCA and what that means to Hoosier farmers, to agriculture across the board, also to manufacturing," Walorski said.

The goal of the roundtable was to update farmers on the current issues while also hearing from the farmers' side. Above all, Walorski wants to get the USMCA deal passed.

"I'm confident that it's going to move with majorities on both sides," she said. "The only person that knows when USMCA is actually coming down is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We just really want to send the signal to her as well."

She said once USMCA passes, that will allow them to focus fully on the U.S.-China agreement.

McKinney stressed that the deal would be huge for agriculture.

"The lieutenant governor and Director Kettler have done a great job of implementing a dairy strategy that the department and state government implemented. We faced a lot of problems with Canada on their dairy policy. So, once we get this passed, we can see some of the benefits of more dairy product, whether it's milk or other milk derivatives, heading north like they used to."

Although USMCA was the main topic for the day, McKinney also talked briefly about other trade issues. He anticipates that a Japan deal will be coming soon. If so, he said it will greatly benefit beef, pork, soy and corn.

"We're still working with China," he said. "That is the great unknown. It's really up to China to decide how they want to behave on trade."

USMCA would bring some stability back to agriculture, according to McKinney.

"Our farmers in Indiana want to see some stability," said McKinney. "What USMCA allows us to have and have farmers to have is a significant amount of stability in the marketplace. They want to be able to produce; they want to be able to sell their products and have trade. To make sure that we have that trade, that's why these agreements are critical."

After the difficult year that farmers have had in terms of weather, some type of stability is critical, McKinney added.

Walorski said the only reason the agreement has not been signed is because it has not yet hit the floor. The agreement would have passed months ago. She said we just need to get through it and sign the agreement, then concentrate on China. Her hope is that it will pass before the end of fall.

"We can fix a lot of these issues and make sure that we never face them again getting the Canadian and Mexican agreement signed, and it's just that simple.

Trade talks have gone on much longer than McKinney would have anticipated. He said long ago, he would have said there would only be one round of mitigation payments for farmers. After the second round, he's not so sure what will happen next.

"As for a third one, I don't know. But I know that the president doesn't want them, secretary Perdue doesn't want them, I don't want them and the farmers don't want them," he said. "We want to get back to trade. But I will stand up for the president. He is going to protect the farmers and that's what he's done with both of those programs."

The president of Indiana Farm Bureau and farmer Randy Kron also attended the roundtable.

"When it comes to USMCA, to me it's just common sense," he said. "It's our closest partner to the North and South with huge markets. To have a deal with them, it's a no brainer in my book."

Not only does he think this deal will benefit U.S. farmers, he believes it will lead to more trade deals around the world.

"We've got to show our partners around the world that we can get a trade deal done," Kron said. "When we are negotiating some of these others that they know we can get it across the finish line."

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