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USDA trade nominee would pair market opening with enforcement

Asia is brimming with opportunities to win lifelong consumers of U.S. food and ag exports, said President Biden’s nominee for USDA undersecretary for trade on Thursday. At a Senate nomination hearing, Alexis Taylor said her priorities would be opening foreign markets to U.S. goods and the diligent enforcement of the rules governing trade agreements.

“There are huge opportunities in this part of the world,” said Taylor when asked about the recently launched 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF), which stretches from Australia and India to Japan and South Korea. Many of the countries have relatively young populations that could become long-term customers for U.S. food, she said.

“I’m interested in engaging on what meaningful market access might look like there, enforceable standards for our agricultural community and enforcing those standards when those commitments are not being lived up to, and really addressing non-tariff barriers,” she said, “because those oftentimes can be thrown up in unjustified ways for our agricultural exporters, and making sure those [standards] are science-based and they are clear and predictable.”

The IPEF, in some ways a successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership scuttled by President Trump, would encourage cooperation on labor, environmental, and trade standards and provide an alternative to the expansion of Chinese influence in the region. IPEF members represent 40% of the global economy.

Also testifying at the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing were Jose Emilio Esteban, nominated to be USDA undersecretary for food safety, and Vincent Logan, nominated for the board of the Farm Credit Administration. Committee chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she hoped to move the three nominations to a vote quickly, perhaps as early as next week. “Each of these nominations has strong, bipartisan support.”

Three senators urged Taylor, the Oregon state agriculture director since December 2016, to be firm when addressing disputes over dairy shipments to Canada and GE corn sales to Mexico. “They [Mexico] have responsibilities to the [U.S.-Mexico-Canada] agreement,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican. Canada and Mexico account for 36% of U.S. food and ag trade.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 2 in Republican leadership, said the administration ought to be seeking new trade agreements and additional market openings but was not. “I hope you will focus like a laser on that,” he told Taylor.

The senior Republican on the Agriculture Committee, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, referred to projections that the United States would run a deficit in agricultural trade in fiscal 2023, the third in five years. “We need to return agriculture to being a net exporter.”

Esteban said he would pursue collaboration with other federal health agencies if confirmed to the top food-safety post at the USDA. “We accomplish more when we work together,” he said, so he would “build on the relationships with FDA, EPA.”

To watch a video of the hearing or to read written statements by the nominees, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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