New agriculture boss pushes trade

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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

the post.

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.”

The Senate

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.

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