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Chief Ag Negotiator Finally Has His Day in Senate Committee Hearing

Chief Ag Negotiator Finally Has His Day in Senate Committee Hearing

President Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. Chief Ag Negotiator won high marks from both parties at his Senate confirmation hearing last week, but is hemmed in by the White House’s ‘no free trade deal’ policy.

Dave Salmonsen, senior director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the Senate Finance Committee hearing was the first step in the confirmation process of Doug McKalip.

This was their hearing to ask questions, get his answers, and then they’ll decide at a later date to vote whether to refer his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.”

Salmonsen says McKalip did give senators a look into what his priorities would be as chief agricultural negotiator.

“He talked a lot about how, as far as in improving exports, through making sure other countries didn’t have regulatory barriers – a lot of his background, has been in regulation – that we needed science-based standards, making sure countries weren’t just throwing up protectionist barriers. He also defended, of course, the administration’s approach to things like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aren’t traditional trade agreements. They’re not about doing market access and not about trying to lower tariffs. He talked a lot about the opportunities in Southeast Asian countries, a lot of potential for growth, and also explained how we really wanted to focus on moving more product into China.”

At the hearing, McKalip insisted he can 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.”  

McKalip appears headed toward confirmation 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.”

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 in that for lasting enforcement tools.

Salmonsen said the committee members wanted to hear from the nominee about opportunities for increasing U.S. agricultural exports.

“Where would the best countries that we could do that, how would we enforce existing trade agreements to make sure we got the most out of what we had done in the past, and also a lot of questioning about the administration’s trade agenda, and why the administration was going in a different direction with not pursuing the traditional trade agreement approach?”

McKalip’s nomination received approval from multiple industry organizations.

Image courtesy brownfieldagnews.com