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Ambassador Tai and Secretary Vilsack promised continued pressure on China and upholding USMCA.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

September 24, 2021

4 Min Read
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Moving forward, this administration continues to look to uphold current trade agreements, rather than make bold steps outward on advancing ag market access. Both Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai spoke Sept. 21 and 22 to the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

As exports to China continue to look promising of at least getting close to the ambitious goals set out by the Phase 1 trade deal, farmers may not be out of the water yet on trade frictions with our No. 1 ag export destination.

Vilsack says this administration continues to put pressure on China to live up to its requirements and promises it made in Phase 1. He says the agreement included 57 sanitary and phytosanitary issues that China agreed to including on biotech approvals. Vilsack says they’ve taken care of 50, but an important seven SPS issues remain unaddressed. Increased purchases set at roughly 90% of promised levels, although more promising than the 2020 level at roughly 64% of the ag purchase goal.

“We’re going to continue to press them to meet their obligations and responsibilities as we continue that relationship, which is obviously important to American agriculture,” Vilsack adds.

While speaking to NASDA members earlier in the meeting, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai also says she understands the importance and interest of the American farm sector to maintain market access to China. She assured NASDA members that her staff continues to work with China, including those related to ag market access and purchases.

Tai says USTR has been conducting a comprehensive review of the U.S. China relationship, and trade is a key pillar of that relationship. “I want to ensure everyone how serious we take this relationship. We know it is one of the most consequential relationships of our time. It’s worth taking the time to get it right,” she says.

“We got a cease fire, but we didn’t end the war,” says Ian Sheldon, ag trade specialist at Ohio State University. He says the China market access agreement has proven more beneficial than many anticipated, including himself. However, the Phase 1 deal only smoothed things politically, but didn’t address many of the issues that still remain.

USMCA also on radar

Vilsack and Tai both say they’ve raised issues with their Mexican counterparts on their biotech acceptance actions under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “We will continue to press Mexico for compliance with the terms and conditions of the USMCA whether its GE corn or whether it’s glyphosate or other issues that separate us,” Vilsack says.

A recent ruling on the Mexican potato market is also still high on the watch list, Vilsack adds, which has been dealt with over multiple administrations over the course of the last 15 years. He expects potato trade to resume in the next month.

Tai notes USTR requested and established a dispute settlement panel on Canada’s dairy tariff rate quotas. As the first enforcement action taken under the new USMCA, Tai says it is important to hold trading partners accountable.

Vilsack says that now that the Canadian elections are over, he’s hoping to find ways in which to break down barriers that exist.

Expanding trade elsewhere

Although Tai says this administration looks to focus on enforcing existing agreements, there are also additional ways to expand existing trade frameworks, advocate for reforms at the World Trade Organization and integrate farmers’ action on climate change into the opportunity to open up new market opportunities.  

Tai says she remains in close touch with her counterparts in the United Kingdom and Kenya, which both began trade expansion discussions during the Trump administration. The meetings reinforced a commitment to working on continuing and deepening the shared trade economies consistent with the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda.

Many countries also have Trade & Investment Framework Agreements – or TIFAS – which include Indonesia, Taiwan and a similar type framework with India. Tai says these allow for addressing trade barriers, while not needing Congressional approval. She did not say she would be seeking Trade Promotion Authority which offers Congress an up or down vote on any negotiated deal the executive branch makes, but did promise ongoing coordination and consultation on trade matters with Congress.  

Vilsack says recently the administration had success in Vietnam in loosening its requirements on trade with U.S. ag products, most notably reducing import tariffs on U.S. pork products, corn and wheat. Vietnam is the seventh-largest market for U.S. agriculture.  

“This is an important country for us and important relationship for us to continue to evolve and develop now,” Vilsack says of Vietnam.

“We're going to continue to look for ways in which we can reduce the barriers and the friction that may exist between our country and other countries,” Vilsack says.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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