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5 Interesting Tidbits on Ag Trade

We spoke with with USDA’s Ted McKinney on trade issues across the globe.

Successful Farming editors spoke with Ted McKinney, the Undersecretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs, in an exclusive interview on Monday. Here are five things we learned about his role in agricultural trade. McKinney, the former secretary of agriculture in Indiana, was confirmed in October. He grew up on a farm in Tipton, Indiana.

1. World Traveler

McKinney has been touted by Secretary Sonny Perdue as his “million-miler,” joking that McKinney would have to log a lot of time on airplanes to meet with trade partners and build new markets across the globe. “It looks like we’re going to get there” in the million-mile club, McKinney said. He has logged more than 60,000 miles in his seven weeks on the job.

He spent a week in India (Mumbai and New Delhi), Brazil, and a half-week each in Colombia and Panama. “Good things happen to he or she who shows up,” McKinney said. His job has a “focus squarely and singularly on trade. We have to flat get after it.” The 2018 schedule looks to include plenty of travel, as well. “Our intent is to leave no stone unturned,” he said.

2. Brazil 

While the U.S. and Brazil are often considered adversaries in regard to agricultural trade – especially when it comes to soybeans – representatives from the countries talked more about cooperation than competition, McKinney said of his recent trip to the South American country. 

They talked about new technologies and mutually agreed upon trade deals inside and outside the ag industry. It wasn’t all pleasantries, though, as there was some talk about beef access and food safety, he said. "Along with the positive work, there’s serious discussions to ensure we retain that free trade.”

3. China

Exporters and USDA officials are constantly reminding China why it should continue to import products from the U.S., and hope to avoid future pitfalls in terms of biotechnology regulations and other trade barriers, said McKinney, who said China is a “terriffic trading partner.”

There are opportunities to further improve trade with the Asian country in areas including soybeans, ethanol, and DDGs. Exporting U.S. ethanol to China may become a “larger issue” in the future and is on a “long list of things we want to talk more with China about.”

4. India

The 20-year effort to grow trade with India has plenty of upside, McKinney said.

  • India is a democracy, which benefits the U.S. “It will not be easy,” McKinney said. “Is the investment worth it? I say yes, and unequivocally yes.”
  • The country has 1.3 billion people, yearning to improve their quality of life. That means more food and education. Beef may not be likely, but McKinney cited opportunities for American exports of pork, poultry, and lentils.
  • India has a prime minister looking positively at change in business practices and trade practices. McKinney attended a food expo during his visit there. “Look at the directional change” that is happening in India. “That change will continue,” McKinney said.


We talked extensively about the North American Free Trade Agreement, currently in rocky negotiations between our key agricultural trading partners, Canada and Mexico. See our story on NAFTA, but McKinney clearly was riding the fence line as negotiations plod on. Will the U.S. keep or back out on NAFTA? Every twitch in negotiations has caught farmers’ eyes, from reports that Goldman Sachs is predicting the U.S. bails on the 25-year-old agreement, to Sen. Pat Roberts of the Senate Ag Committee indicating that President Trump hinted to him that things would be fine in the NAFTA agreement.



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