After weeks of wandering through the political wilderness looking for an honest agriculture secretary, Donald Trump finally tapped Sonny Perdue, a favored son of Georgia who had once been a Democrat but was converted in 1998. Much joy resounded throughout aggie land. Every major trade organization stampeded to applaud Perdue, a man who they were sure would ride into Washington astride a mighty white stead and 'kick some ass.'
But for every silver lining, a dark cloud can be found. Just four short days later, President Trump scratched his signature scrawl on an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For an industry that enjoys outsized profits from its export business, this was a most unkind cut. The TPP was on track to be the largest trading agreement in history but, perhaps more importantly it would block China from gaining even more influence over the Pacific basin.
Now, the major nations involved in the partnership -- Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico and Australia, along with second tier trading partners like New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei -- will feel they've been seduced and abandoned by their American suitor. Expect a smiling, confident China to come calling, flowers and candy in hand, smooth-talking the disappointed group, a big diamond ring in the offing.
Expect, too, that the market for American beef, pork, poultry and grain to begin to whither.
Despite a massive effort by Perdue's new USDA, farm income is sure to fail, continuing a trend that started a few years ago.
Every meat industry organization -- the North American Meat Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and the U.S. Meat Export Federation played an 'all in' hand for TPP passage. They knew Asia was a growth market for the future, one that would make the region critical to American agricultural exports.
The decision will seriously wound farm trade and unfairly saddle Perdue's big white stead with a heavy load. Trump has turned a race horse into a draft animal; large, strong but not the kind of fast running beast necessary to be competitive with the Chinese merchant class.
I wonder what Sonny will do?