After months of agricultural groups making plenty of noise in written communications about the importance of trade to the agriculture industry, they had the opportunity to carry that message to members of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council on Wednesday in a sit-down conversation that was said to be engaging, substantive and productive.
Executive staff leaders from 11 major U.S. agricultural and agribusiness organizations met with National Economic Council director Gary Cohn; Ray Starling, recently appointed as a presidential adviser on food and agriculture, and Andrew Quinn, a newly named adviser on trade.
Corn Refiners Assn. president and chief executive officer John Bode said his sense is that the National Economic Council understands food and agriculture trade extremely well. “They are focused on the need to build food and agriculture trade as part of the recipe to strengthening our export position in looking at trade deficits,” Bode told Feedstuffs.
Bode explained that much of the trade discussion since Trump has taken office has been on manufacturing and the impact on those jobs, while there hasn’t been very much discussion at all on food and agriculture industry trade priorities. After the discussion Wednesday, he said this is simply because the food and agriculture industry has done quite well under current trade pacts, but the Administration remains very focused on growing exports.
"It is clear from this meeting and other interactions that the Trump Administration understands the importance, and intends to pursue expansion, of U.S. food and agriculture exports, which contribute to U.S. manufacturing, job creation and economic growth," the groups said in a joint statement following the meeting.
Bode said the broad-based U.S. Food & Agriculture Dialogue for Trade, a coalition representing more than 150 companies and trade groups, plans to submit recommendations to the President’s trade team and promised them as soon as possible. He explained some of the recommendations will be industry-wide, while various groups may also have more sector-specific recommendations.
"We are committed to offering substantive proposals and ideas and look forward to further opportunities to work with the Administration and its trade team as they develop specific strategies for engaging in trade negotiations with our most important trading partners. We are pleased that we received assurances from the Trump team that it will take us up on that offer," the joint statement from the groups said.
Bode said it's unclear what direction the Administration will take on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he feels confident that the team recognizes the importance of these markets to U.S. agriculture. He added that it's “quite clear” that Trump is looking at a bilateral trade agreeement with Japan and “that is something he is eager to address,” Bode relayed.
Participating in the meeting were representatives from the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Assn., Corn Refiners Assn., National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Assn., National Cotton Council, National Grain & Feed Assn., National Oilseed Processors Assn., North American Export Grain Assn., Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and USA Rice.
During the meeting, the agricultural organizations noted that 95% of their potential customers live beyond U.S. borders and that the diverse food and agriculture sector supports more than 15 million U.S. jobs, creates more than $423 billion in annual U.S. economic activity and is the single largest U.S. manufacturing sector, representing 12% of all U.S. manufacturing jobs.