By Ben Conner, USW Vice President of Policy
After more than a year, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) finally has its full leadership team in place as Deputy USTR Jeffrey Gerrish was sworn in this week to join Deputy USTRs Dennis Shea and C. J. Mahoney, Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud, and USTR Robert Lighthizer. While Ambassador Lighthizer had been supported by a team of very capable career staff at USTR, there is no substitute for having the full suite of Senate-confirmed leadership in place to set direction for the agency.
Particularly exciting for U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the agriculture community, was the confirmation of Gregg Doud as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator. It is critical for U.S. agriculture to have a strong voice at the table for trade discussions. Ambassador Doud, who is a former market analyst at USW, will certainly provide that, along with Ted McKinney, USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and Ray Starling, the White House Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance.
Getting the team in place comes at a critical time for U.S. agriculture, our trade relationships and the global trading system in general. Negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could be in the home stretch, steel and aluminum tariffs threaten to disrupt trade relationships with some of our best customers and the United States and China are gearing up for the largest trade conflict in the post-World Trade Organization (WTO) era. Not to mention the desperate need for the United States to re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and start working to support other customers around the globe.
The USTR team has a big task ahead that will affect the global trading system, U.S. agriculture and our customers overseas for decades. For the U.S. wheat value chain, the best course of action is negotiating new and stronger trade rules, and enforcing them along with existing rules through an effective, binding dispute settlement system. That will be a far better course for U.S. farmers and their loyal overseas customers than any misguided trade war.