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McKinney Reflects on His Time at USDA


“If you wondered whether trade out there is free, fair, and reciprocal, the answer is unequivocally not. The answer is no. Maybe even hell no.”

That from Ted McKinney, former Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, reflecting on his time in the position during a recent Purdue Ag Econ lecture, the James C. Snyder Memorial Event.

“And so, the thing I’m pleased with is that I was given permission to be strong, to have a spine. Never to be unfair and that’s very important to me. I worked very hard to make a win-win for the other party, mostly governments and their industries, as I was trying to bring back some sense of fairness to our farmers and ranchers.”

McKinney brought up various challenges that he faced at USDA, including a broken and outdated WTO.

“And do not mistake what I’m saying there- I do believe we need a WTO. I think we will get there, but for sure it was outdated and we needed to upgrade it. You can probably guess China, both its opportunities and its challenges, have to be ranked in the top 3. And, frankly, diversifying our exports so that we’re not beholden to any one country, and we saw some of the downsides of that. So, we spent a lot of time diversifying the exports, I think, in some real success.”

McKinney sees Africa and India as major opportunities to diversify trade.

Speaking to Purdue Ag Econ students, McKinney told them, “Public service is a very good thing. Yeah, it can be a real pain in the neck sometimes and it can take long hours and it’s frustrating as all get out, but we must remind ourselves we still have the best democracy, the best form of government in the world. I still believe that. Even with the strident frustrations that so many of us are going through on both sides of the political aisle.”

McKinney was the first person to hold the position of Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. He also previously served as the director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.