By Michele F. Mihaljevich
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – USDA Under Secretary Ted McKinney provided updates on the country’s trade status with several nations – including China – during a recent virtual roundtable discussion.
McKinney, former Indiana State Department of Agriculture director, serves as under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. He spoke with agricultural industry officials in the state Oct. 7.
“This COVID issue we’ve been battling for months sort of took front page headlines, and yet trade has continued,” McKinney noted. “I daresay we have seen improvements over these last many months of self-imposed exile as I like to call it.”
In addition to China, he discussed the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and India.
China understandably seems to be on the minds of many people, McKinney said. “China has been buying big. Now to be sure, to your good fortune, that’s largely commodity items that come from a lot of the Midwest.”
He mentioned pork, soybeans, poultry and beef as products purchased by China in large quantities. The first year of the two-year Phase One trade agreement, signed in January, goes until Dec. 31. McKinney said the United States is occasionally seeing record purchases from China on a daily basis.
“We’re very pleased where things are going with China right now. It’s really rocking and rolling. We hope that is sustained all the way through and including Dec. 31. As far as year two goes, we’ll see. You never know with China.”
As for the UK, he cautioned against reading the UK media, saying it doesn’t quite represent where the negotiators are.
“The heavy lift always comes at the end, but we remain optimistic that the UK truly wants to do a deal. We know that they very much want to get out from under the choking regulations of Brussels and the EU. They recognize we’ve been partners for a long time.”
The UK is most concerned about animal welfare standards, McKinney pointed out.
“I believe our standards are very little different than those in the UK or even in Europe. Right now, there is this myth that seems to be pervasive in the UK and Europe about a different food quality standard here and that’s just bunk. We’re working really hard to address that.”
McKinney is less optimistic about the EU.
“I’m quite pessimistic about where the EU is. The precautionary principle that came in the wake of Mad Cow disease there 20 plus years ago, and then a few years ago the advent of a new system of evaluating risk where they’ve taken exposure completely out – they don’t measure exposure to honey bees or kids or adults or humans or animals or anything – has essentially led to the maximum residue level on any pesticide or vet drug or infant formula or food coloring to be zero. That is draconian. We believe it’s very much a protectionist tendency. We’re going to be working on that for some time to come.
“We’ve got a massive education effort going on with the EU. I’m more optimistic than not that we can get there. But it’s not going to be days, it’s not going to be weeks, it’s not even going to be months. It’s going to be year or years to round that corner.”
As for India, McKinney said long term, and maybe even intermediate term, the country could be a great trade partner for the United States.
“We cannot walk away. But because they still have this propensity to think that they can be self-sufficient, which I do not believe there’s even a remote chance they can do because they will be one of the continents rising very rapidly in population in the next 30 years. We need to at least put a toe, an ankle, maybe even a knee, into that water and learn the market, learn the language, learn the customs, learn the habits. There is so much that should bind us that hasn’t yet. We’re going to have to be patient.”
Negotiators are trying their best to find deals for as many American products as possible, he said.
“We want to lift up whoever is farming and raising a product. I mean whether it’s organic or not organic, large farms, small farms, high tech, low tech, we want to lift whoever wants to sell internationally.”
For Indiana agriculture, the primary focus is on the state’s main products, such as pork, poultry, eggs and egg products, turkeys, all grains, DDGS and ethanol, McKinney said. “At the same time, (we’re) not forgetting any product that might have a tariff line and that will mean something to a farmer or processor here in Indiana.”