'Trade war or rhetoric?' – Ag negotiators share their thoughts

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Greg Doud holds a job of major importance to U.S. agriculturalists: chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Darci Vetter, Richard Crowder and Allen Johnson held the same job before him.

The four got together May 22 in Washington, D.C., to share their views on “Trade War or Rhetoric?”, a look at current world trade issues. The session, sponsored by the Farm Forum Foundation, was open online to the news media and others.

The Trump administration is revisiting or renegotiating trade agreements with major trading partners, leading many in agriculture to worry that a trade war could be developing.

Doud said he’s only the seventh person to hold the post, which was created in 2000. The Kansas State University graduate, whose previous experience included stints at the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, described himself as “an old wheat guy.”

Doud also said, “If I make any news here, I have not done a good job. My goal here today is not to make news.”

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He said he’s confident that a new North American Free Trade Agreement will be reached, and that the goal is reaching the right agreement, not reaching it quickly. He noted that the internet was in its infancy in 1994 when NAFTA went into force, which reflects the need to update NAFTA.

Vetter, chief ag negotiator from 2014 to 2016, said the Trump administration has been emphasizing bilateral trade agreements, or ones between two countries, rather than multilateral trade agreements, or ones between three or more countries.

“I just don’t think that’s right,” she said, stressing that multilateral agreements – specifically the World Trade Organization, which deals with the global rules of trade between nations – have served the trading partners well.

“I think we have to have a conversation about the different kinds of vehicles we use,” she said.

Crowder, chief ag negotiator from 2006 to 2008, said he understands why many agriculturalists are concerned by what happening.

“The worst case, from a farmer’s’ viewpoint, is pretty bad,” he said, pointing to potential lost exports.

Nonetheless, “I think there are reasons for optimism,” Crowder said. The biggest reason is, “Policymakers around the world have figured out the economic and political consequences of being successful” in reaching trade agreements.

Johnson, chief ag negotiator from 2001 to 2005, said U.S. agriculturalists need to remember that while ag has benefited greatly from exports, some sectors of the U.S. economy have not.