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A comprehensive program involving market facilitation combined with an aggressive search for new trading partners may provide lasting relief that could bring stability to farmers and ranchers.

Logan Hawkes 1, Contributing Writer

January 15, 2020

3 Min Read
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It’s been nearly two years since President Donald Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on imported metals from U.S. trading partners, a move designed to bolster a struggling U.S. steel and aluminum industry that was suffering from low labor costs with foreign metal exports that caused U.S. buyers to turn from domestic to foreign resources in an effort to save money and recoup losses.

What many lauded as an overdue confrontation over the issue in general and the start of a larger trade conflict involving additional trade issues like electronic banking, intellectual property rights and other issues, also kicked off a retaliatory tariff war that many called detrimental to the global trading environment.  Some argued that the move caused millions of dollars in losses to some U.S. industries that had come to rely on cheaper foreign imports and especially to U.S. agriculture that complained the trade war was a devastating development to growers who were already suffering from massive market depression and low prices before those tariffs were imposed on U.S. food and fiber around the world.

To be objective, there have been both good and bad developments over the intense trade conflict in recent months, and in truth there have been serious problems related to agricultural trade for U.S. growers.

While federal market facilitation programs helped to soften the negative blow-back of elevated tariffs on American goods, the battle has largely been uphill for most farmers and livestock producers.

But a comprehensive program involving market facilitation combined with an aggressive search for new trading partners may in the long run provide lasting relief that could bring a level of stability to farmers and ranchers they have not seen in many years.

If nothing else, the trade crisis has helped build a fire under the Foreign Agriculture Service to become aggressive in pursuing new markets and better trade deals with existing as well as new trading partners.

‘Some great success’ in 2019

USDA-FAS, Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney, was asked about the success of the 2019 trade mission programs recently and reflected on plans for the upcoming 2020 programs set to get underway in the days ahead.

“We experienced some great success in 2019 in our efforts to open new markets for agricultural trade working with partners like South Korea and Japan. We are standing on the verge of a ratified U.S.-Canada-Mexico agreement and have made headway with a number of new and existing trading partners that open more markets for farmers and livestock producers this year,” McKinney said in a USDA Radio talk interview with USDA Information officer Rod Bain last week.

“This year, in 2020, our trade missions will include visits to Africa and the Middle East, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, East Asia and the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Europe and Eurasia, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, the Western Hemisphere, and Peru.”

McKinney said he is excited with this year’s trade mission schedule because it includes new markets for the U.S.

“Four of these are brand new trading partners for the U.S. agriculture industry, and some of the others we have worked with in the past but now have the opportunity to expand upon what we have started by spending more time at the table with them and work out better partnerships that will benefit U.S. growers,” McKinney said.

In 2019 McKinney said trade mission efforts resulted in benefitting 240 U.S. companies participating in 3,200 one-on-one trade meeting with potential buyers involving an estimated $78 million in estimated sales.

According to the USDA-FAS web site, FAS-sponsored international trade missions open doors and deliver results for U.S. exporters, giving them the opportunity to forge relationships with potential customers, gather market intelligence and, most importantly, generate sales.

While final dates are subject to confirmation, scheduled 2020 trade mission dates so far include:

•        North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia), March 16-19

•        Philippines, April 20-23

•        Spain and Portugal, June 8-11*

•        United Kingdom, September 14-17*

•        Australia and New Zealand, October 19-23*

•        Peru, November 2-5

•        United Arab Emirates, November 15-18*

*Denotes first-time destination

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