Special Assistant to the President Talks Trade

Ray Starling, Sampson County native, is now Special Assistant to the President of the United States for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade and Food Assistance.  Starling spent some time with Southern Farm Network’s Rhonda Garrison recently in Washington:

You are a man about town these days in here in DC, and those of us in North Carolina that have had the privilege to work with you for many years to tell you how proud we are of you is tough to verbalize.  You at the right hand of the president, and ag in the White House for the first time in many, many years.  And not only is in the White House for the first time in many years, it’s early in the administration, and you told me earlier you feel like this is the time we’re going to get to move the needle here.

“I think that’s exactly right.  I think that’s what’s so exciting about this role, is that so far in engaging with cabinet secretaries, engaging with the president and engaging with my colleagues at the White House, I do really feel like agriculture does have a seat at the table.  And we talk about that a lot, a lot of the commodity organizations, and the agricultural farm organizations talk about we may not always get our way, but we want to make sure that we have a seat at the table, and we feel like we have to muscle in or elbow in to do that, that has not been my experience so far in this administration.  I feel like we really do have a seat at the table, we’ve really have an opportunity to influence policy, and I think folks are listening.”

Now, I think that one of the biggest pseudo-victories of the last few days has been NAFTA, at one point it was completely on the chopping block, and now it’s more or less under review.  And that happened just shortly after a group of farmers were in audience with the president himself.

“I think that’s right that certainly on the whole, and we talk about how agriculture has been a beneficiary of NAFTA, and our free trade agreements.  But, at the same time that is not a position uniformly held, that is not held across all the ag community.  There are some folks that when it comes to negotiations with the Canadians and the Mexicans we can do better, and that we’ve got to do better this time around. 

 “And so I think the president gets that, I think he verbalizes that, but at the same time I think the president fully understands that the operative term of the say is ‘renegotiate’ not withdrawal just because of the disruptions that could happen.

 “And I also think the president understands in a year, or in a time when world stocks are particularly high levels and when the Brazilians and the Argentineans and the folks in South America have just had a bumper crop we understand that on this world market there are sellers that are more than willing to take our place.

 “So, to the extent that we’re viewed as an unreliable supplier, or to the extent that we’re viewed as someone with a preferential trade treatment now, that we’re willing to cede to someone else, believe you me there are folks that are ready and willing to take our place, and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

We’ll be hearing more on trade, and immigration reform from Ray Starling, Special Assistant to the President and SFN’s Rhonda Garrison in the days ahead on Inside Agriculture.



A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.