CINCINNATI (AP) — As farmers fret over President Donald Trump’s
criticism of international trade agreements, Agriculture Secretary Sonny
Perdue is trying to reassure them by creating a top post to oversee
trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
The new undersecretary
position is a sign of Perdue’s efforts to promote the U.S. agricultural
industry as Trump has sought to undo trade pacts that benefit it. Perdue
made the announcement in Cincinnati on May 11 while standing near
barges that carry grain on the Ohio River.
“This nation has a
great story to tell, and we’ve got producers here that produce more than
we can consume,” the former Georgia governor said.
said the new position “fits right in line with my goal to be American
agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the
On his second day in office last month, Perdue helped
persuade Trump not to withdraw from the North American Free Trade
Agreement with Mexico and Canada, arguing that doing so would hurt U.S.
farmers. Trump has said he will work to renegotiate the pact instead.
2014 farm bill had directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make a
plan for the new position, but the Obama administration never created
Perdue said the new undersecretary will work with
incoming U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce
Secretary Wilbur Ross to “ensure that American producers are well
equipped to sell their products and feed the world.”
confirmed Lighthizer on May 11. Though he had broad support from both
parties, Republican Sens. John McCain and Ben Sasse said they wouldn’t
vote for him because they doubted he would champion agriculture and
negotiate trade deals to the benefit of American consumers and the
departmental reorganization announced by Perdue also would combine farm
production and conservation agencies under one undersecretary and move
rural development programs to report directly to the secretary. Perdue
said that will put more focus on those programs and USDA efforts to
revitalize small towns.
While the creation of the trade secretary
won widespread praise in farm country, at least one Democrat is
criticizing the rural development move. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of
Ohio called it a “downgrade” because there will no longer be an
undersecretary for that area.
Brown said his state depends on the
program for help with combating opioid abuse, building hospitals and
securing loans for businesses.
“Ohio’s rural communities are too
often overlooked by Washington as it is, and downgrading USDA Rural
Development sends a message that rural Ohio is not a priority for this
administration,” he said.