Q&A with Trade and Policy Chiefs

Jun 29, 2020


Story by: Nichole Gouldie, communications and brand manager

With everything that is going on around us, sometimes it is hard to separate the news from the noise in Washington and beyond. Follow along as we ask Gregg Doud and Jim Wiesemeyer, two key ag leaders in D.C., how the current situation can impact your farm and your community. 

Q: First, obligatory question! How did you find yourself serving as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator, with the Rank of Ambassador, in the Office of the United States Trade Representative? 

Doud: When the opportunity presented itself for me to join U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer and the team he was assembling at USTR, I could not think of a better way to serve the interests of American agriculture than to lead the agriculture negotiations during a historic time in U.S. trade policy under President Trump.
I have served as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator for USTR for just over two years, after being sworn in March 2018. The time has flown by. Prior to joining USTR, I was President of the Commodity Markets Council, a trade association that brings together commodity futures exchanges and their industry counterparts, for five years. I also previously served as Professional Staff for the Senate Agriculture Committee for Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Thad Cochran, and have held various roles in the agricultural industry for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Wheat Associates and the agricultural commodity consulting firm World Perspectives. I was raised on a farm in Jewell County and am a K-State trained agricultural economist and proud alum.

During these past two years, we have made significant progress in expanding opportunities for U.S. food and agriculture exports with several of our key trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, China, and Japan – markets that in 2019 represented nearly 50% of total U.S. agricultural exports. Beyond these achievements, my colleagues in the Office of Agricultural Affairs at USTR, along with our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have worked around the clock to address agricultural trade issues with our trading partners and to expand export opportunities for U.S. farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. It is an honor to be a part of this team.

Q: What does a day in the life of Jim Wiesemeyer look like?

Jim-(2).jpgWiesemeyer: A typical day is never typical! There are of course certain major news topics I write about each day. These include U.S./China trade relations, COVID-19 updates (disease outbreak, mitigation and impacts on the U.S. economy, especially agriculture). Then I look for examples of how the U.S. economy is starting to take steps to get to whatever the “new normal” will be ahead. Eventually my focus will return to my staple list of topics: farm and trade policy and elections and their impacts.

Q: What is the status of China fulfilling their obligations per the trade agreement?

Doud: The Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States and China entered into force on February 14, 2020. USTR, along with our counterparts at USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have been in regular communication with the government of China regarding the numerous provisions needed to implement the Agriculture Chapter of the Phase One Agreement. Progress thus far has included:

·         Elimination of China’s unwarranted ban on imports of U.S. poultry;

·         Removal of restrictions on imports of U.S. beef, providing full access to China’s $8 billion beef market;

·         The lifting of restrictions on imports of processed meat and poultry meat products, and pet food;

·         Allowing imports of U.S. fresh potatoes, California nectarines and avocados;

·         Facilitating imports of new dairy products, providing greater access to China’s $12 billion dairy market;

·         Streamlining facility registration procedures, allowing for imports from over 2,200 U.S. facilities that
process dairy, seafood, meat, poultry, pet food, and animal feed (including feed additives and DDGS).

Additionally, as part of the Agreement, China committed to purchasing $80 billion of a full range of agricultural products during 2020 and 2021. We are closely monitoring both U.S. export data and Chinese import data and fully expect China to honor its commitments outlined in the Agreement.

Q: You’ve been working on trade with other countries. What can you share on future trade agreements?

Doud: Going forward, USTR will continue to re-balance America’s relationship with its trading partners, aggressively enforce our trade laws, and take prompt action in response to unfair trade practices by other nations. The Trump Administration’s goals for the next year include:

·         Robust enforcement of commitments by our trading partners in trade agreements, including the USMCA, the China Phase One Agreement, and WTO agreements.

·         New trade agreements with important partners, including the United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as Kenya, which would be the United States’ first free trade agreement in sub-Saharan Africa.

·         Conducting further negotiations with Japan for a comprehensive trade agreement that results in a more fair and reciprocal trade and economic relationship.

·         Pursuing a Phase Two Agreement with China that continues to require structural reforms and other changes to China’s economic and trade regime.

·         Limiting the WTO to its original purpose of serving as a forum for nations to negotiate trade agreements, monitor compliance with agreements and facilitate the resolution of international trade disputes.

Q: What are the top two or three lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic both in the private sector and the government’s response?

Wiesemeyer: One, no country or industry could have prepared for the major black-swan event called COVID-19. But there are lessons learned to help limit any future events of this magnitude. One of them is making sure essential industries (medical, agriculture/food, energy, etc.) have their safeguards and safety nets in place to cushion the negative impacts. This will likely and should be part of the new major farm bill debate.

Another lesson is never should we have allowed the United States to rely on any country (such as China) or a group of countries (Asia) for key medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPE). Both of those glaring problems will take years to correct, but look for the White House and Congress, and the private sector, to take steps to solve those strategic issues. A related topic is labor needs. Agriculture knew for years the problems in getting adequate labor in key parts of the ag sector, but the woes of the meat processing industry could well bring Congress and the Executive Branch to finally reforming the labor/immigration system.

The third lesson is a relearned one in having industry officials and lobbyists inform Congress and the White House of major implications from an event like COVID-19, and suggestions on dealing with it from agriculture stakeholders’ perspective. Grass roots’ solutions have always been the best ways of coping with surprises, and this is no exception. Ag industry officials, ag bankers and others have been an important part of solutions underway.

Q: Since COVID-19 is a global pandemic, what impact do you see on trade worldwide and with the U.S.?

Doud: The first point that cannot be overstated is that these supply chain disruptions are occurring in the vast majority of countries all around the world. We can all see the disruptions at a local, state, and national level. What is difficult to grasp is that, at the same time, similar problems are occurring in nearly every country in the world. The United States and our key trading partners remain committed to ensuring the continued flow of food, products, and inputs essential for agricultural and food production across borders, as reaffirmed by G20 Agriculture Ministers at their meeting held April 21, 2020, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Agriculture joint statement on April 22, 2020.

These supply chain disruptions are impacting the trade of all U.S. goods, including food and agricultural products. It isn’t clear at this point what the long-term implications of COVID-19 will be on global supply chains. Regardless, we must be prepared to quickly adapt as our global customer base evolves from this crisis.

Q:  How has COVID-19 affected the presidential campaign?

Wiesemeyer: COVID-19 has impacted not only the presidential election but likely some key Senate and House races, but more so the White House and the Senate. Prior to the epidemic, President Donald Trump was feeling he had the upper hand in winning re-election. Reasons: The job market was tight, unemployment was at over 40-year lows, and the U.S. economy was growing at a healthy and sustainable rate. Republican senators were thinking such an economic environment would help them maintain control of the Senate, and some House Republicans thought they could at least make a run at recapturing the House, even though history would suggest they would come up short.

But the epidemic has caused Trump and his Republican congressional colleagues to focus on mitigation, their own health and getting various industries such as agriculture adequate aid in a turbulent situation. The election fate for Trump and Republican lawmakers largely depends on getting the COVID-19 virus contained and the state economies back to business, even if at a likely reduced rate for a while. The ugly unemployment rate and number of jobless workers could look much better by October and if so, then the elections will depend on how voters view the recovery and key issues ahead.

Q: With the start of 2020 being a difficult year for many farmers and ranchers, what are some upbeat assessments/positives for the remainder of 2020?

Doud: I understand the difficult situation faced by our farmers and ranchers and our food supply chain, and wish everyone the best as we deal with these uncertain times.

In terms of agricultural trade, the implementation of the USMCA, the Phase One Agreement with China, and the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement will dramatically enhance export opportunities for U.S. agriculture for years to come, providing certainty to our farmers and ranchers As I mentioned above, the Trump Administration has many priorities this year, which represent significant potential for U.S. food and agriculture exports, particularly related to negotiations with the United Kingdom and Kenya. 

Wiesemeyer: The seeding of the 2020 crops has brought the usual optimism on the part of U.S. producers. Ranchers have seen demand for their products continue, even though logistic and industry glitches have caused short-term problems. But the Trump administration, USDA, Congress and state governors have joined in making sure there are solutions to the pandemic-caused problems in the ag sector. Some potential bright spots to watch for as 2020 unfolds:

·         Demand for U.S. exports, both crops, meat and energy increases, especially if China comes close to its Phase One trade agreement commitments for 2020 and 2021;

·         Domestic demand for U.S. farm products should get a big supportive boost as restaurants increasingly open and the prior demand chain starts to work again. This is also contingent on getting meat processing plants safe and workers comfortable in coming to work to process the needed animals for the meat product purchases by consumers and the food services.

·         Getting schools open will also help the food sector in returning this important sector to the demand ledger.

·         And getting major league sports back will make a lot of Americans feel that while life may never be the same, some things never change: our love of sports, be it in school or professional leagues.

Q: The MKC Connections Newsletter readership reaches nearly 10,000 mailboxes. Is there anything else you would like to tell this audience of farmers, ranchers, industry leaders, employees and more?

Doud: I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of those working across the agriculture sector, for your continued efforts on the front lines of the COVID-19 situation, continuing to work to provide vital food and agricultural products to Americans when it is desperately needed. It is a privilege to work on your behalf every day. We will get through this.