By Randy Gordon, President
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told a National Press Club luncheon audience on Dec. 12 that he remains optimistic that the United States, Canada and Mexico ultimately will be successful in achieving a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that benefits the people and economies of all three countries. Joking that he had asked Santa for a NAFTA deal, Perdue noted that President Trump is a “tough negotiator” and conceded that U.S. negotiating strategy may create “some anxiety along the way.” But he said he was “confident” the president wants to achieve a NAFTA agreement. During his remarks on NAFTA, Perdue also reiterated that U.S. agriculture is the “foundation” for America’s manufacturing sector, creating jobs and economic growth. He noted that 20 percent of U.S. farm income is tied directly to trade, amounting to more than $140 billion in fiscal year 2017. “A healthy agriculture economy is essential for the well-being of the economy as a whole.”
In response to questions, Perdue said the president is “an interesting person” who welcomes and listens to input, and is open to changing his mind in response to sound, persuasive arguments. “That’s the essence of a great leader,” Perdue said. “He has high expectations and wants (his advisers) to give their best advice – which better be right.” In response to another question concerning Trump’s reportedly tense relationships with some members of his Cabinet, Perdue said he “he has a “great relationship” with the president – jokingly proclaiming that, “he loves me!”
On other matters, Perdue said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be a resource for the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as they work next year to craft a new farm bill, which he again said he expects to be evolutionary, with tweaking to improve the safety nets particularly for dairy and cotton. Concerning USDA’s role, he said the department “will be as hands-on or hands-off” as the agriculture committees want, and provide background and expertise. “I don’t believe it is USDA’s responsibility to write a farm bill, but we will develop broad principles and do deeper dives as requested.” Perdue also touched on the renewable fuels standard (RFS), saying that President Trump remains committed to the RFS, but believes that some changes need to be made to assist refiners with renewable identification number (RIN) prices. He said the administration was working this week with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others “to resolve the RIN prices that some believe may be very speculative” and perhaps constitute attempts to corner the RIN market. He also said the administration’s Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity has finalized its recommendations, which are undergoing internal administration review and will be released soon. “We have to do a better job of providing hope and opportunity in rural America,” to reverse the population decline, he said.