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McKinney back from Argentina after talks with trade partners


SAN JUAN, P.R. — Trade and tariffs are causing tension, but are also forcing important conversations with U.S. trading partners.

USDA Under Secretary for Trade Ted McKinney has been busy in Argentina. He met with representatives of the G-20 and talked about the World Trade Organization (WTO) and geographical indicators (GIs) two weeks ago, before touring an Argentina farm that is using cloning technology to produce better polo ponies.

A tired-sounding McKinney spoke to press from Puerto Rico one morning last week. He stopped in the U.S. territory on his way home to assess his agency’s response to last year's hurricane damage.

When asked for details about how the $12 billion tariff relief for U.S. farmers would operate, he said he doesn't have that information yet. The USDA is calculating the information and plans to release details in August. In the meantime, McKinney continues to hope some of the trade barriers being put in place by other countries will be eliminated.

The funds may be used to purchase more U.S. agricultural products and redistribute it to food assistance programs, such as lunch programs for schoolchildren. Direct payments will likely be available to many crops covered by Title 1 as well as dairy and hog farmers.

McKinney said providing the money to farmers isn't going to meet the full need, just as when a house is destroyed, the homeowners might get a check to replace their losses – but they never feel like everything is replaced.

At the same time, he will continue to develop export markets. He said he will be working with countries to increase their imports of U.S. agriculture by showing them how some of the products can be used.

Last month’s agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission (EU) President Jean-Claude Juncker to resume trade talks with the goal of eliminating trade barriers was welcome news to those in the agriculture industry.

GIs remain an issue. In June, the EU and China agreed to a list of 200 GI-protected product names. “EU has become increasingly aggressive in their agreements and we've become increasingly aggressive in our warnings,” McKinney said.

The EU is trying to patent and trademark food names that have been part of common usage for 100 years, he explained. “It's unacceptable, and we don't plan to comply with that.”

Discussions about the WTO were also a focus in Argentina. To join the WTO, countries have to agree to international standards regarding trade, to make sure decisions are based on science.

Most countries do all right, McKinney said; other countries will ignore parts of the international standards. China, for example, ignores whatever the government wants to ignore, he asserted.

The Argentina discussion focused on how the WTO can guide international trade the way the organization was intended – the standards need to be stronger and enforced, he said.