While U.S. agriculture prepares for possible retaliation against U.S. tariffs, a top USDA official remains confident on the future of U.S. ag trade. Undersecretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Affairs Ted McKinney was in Japan last week when the U.S. tariffs were announced. He told reporters on Monday that, in his talks with Japanese leaders, there was no discussion of a trade war with the U.S., “Rather it was ‘We like doing business with the U.S. We like to do business with you’. It was a reminder that there is a preference for business to be done with the U.S.”
McKinney said there was a good deal of discussion about finding a way forward for a trade agreement that would lower import tariffs on U.S. ag exports into Asia, “Whether we pursue a bilaterial agreement which is the request of the President or, at some point, rejoining the TPP11 to make the TPP12, that is a decision that the President and others need to make. Certainly we heard that they want us to come back into the fold.” He added that Japan would prefer a multilaterial agreement, but all sides recognize there may need to be some changes made and that a cooling off period is needed.
While McKInney admitted the new America First approach on trade is challenging, in the end he feels it will be successful in getting U.S. farmers better trade agreements. “We are going through an interesting time here when we are trying to right the ship, as it were, and talking about and facing for years, no only in agriculture but as a nation as a whole,” he stated. “That is those sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers. We may have some bumps on the road, but I hope as we emerge from this we are going to see a brighter and better day that will provide for a greater day for U.S. farmers in the long term.” He added that, while big markets like China and the EU are difficult, progress is being made with many smaller markets in bringing down trade barriers. He cited as an example his recent trip to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.