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Secretary Perdue: China Trade Deal Must Have Teeth

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was in New Orleans on Friday, his third trip to the Big Easy in the first month of this year: One Sugar Bowl football game, one Farm Bureau meeting, and now the National Cattle Convention. Before he addressed the general session of all the beef producers, he had a brief Q&A with the media.

Q: Where exactly are we on a trade deal with China?

Perdue: Let me say that trade continues to be an integral part of agriculture policy. We produce more than we can consume, we must have trade, and that’s what this administration is working toward.

The president met with the Vice Premier of China yesterday. Both parties want to get a deal done. And it won’t be done until it is approved and then enforced. Intellectual property rights continue to be the big part of the negotiations. Progress was made, but the president won’t sign a deal that doesn’t have teeth. Our team of representatives will be in China for follow-up meetings in February. What we want is for China to be a reliable customer for our goods, as we will be a reliable supplier.

And don’t forget we are working with other customers. Japan, for instance, is particularly important for beef, and we are working on further building that market. And the EU is another one. We want agriculture included in trade talks, and they want to leave ag out. They have more non-ag trade barriers than anywhere else, such as their phytosanitary barriers.

The good news in this is that USDA is traveling the world trying to open new markets to our products. We have great products and plenty of them. We need more diverse markets, particularly for something like soybeans. We shouldn’t be so dependent on one [China]. We want more customers in places like Vietnam, India, and Africa.

Q: Who is going to regulate the new artificial lab meat products being developed, FDA or USDA?

Perdue: We believe USDA is in the best position to be in charge of harvesting, packaging, and labeling these products. Those are the things we do with all food products, it makes sense we do that with any new class of products. Especially labeling – people need to know where a product comes from.

Q: Will industrial hemp be approved for use in animal feeds?

Perdue: I don’t know about that, I do know it has lots of other uses, but I’m not sure about animal feed. That is one subject that we get a lot of questions on, maybe more than about any other topic since industrial hemp is being unregulated in the new Farm Bill.

Q: Can we avoid another government shutdown?

Perdue: I’m optimistic, I hope so. I am disappointed that one party leader in particular has said they won’t even talk about the president’s demands for border security. They have shut the door on that discussion. That’s not the spirit of negotiation that we expect from our government. The American people expect more from their leaders.

Q: What about the Western wildfires? What are the USDA efforts to reduce them?

Perdue: I believe in shared stewardship of those natural resources. It has to be a partnership with local and state agencies and the Forest Service. We do need better management, such things as cleaned undergrowth and forest management. We know what to do to reduce this risk, we just need to do it. What I’d really like to do is take you to Georgia and show you what we’ve done there to create a well-managed forest environment.

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