It would be unthinkable to send an NFL coach to a Super Bowl with only a handful of players and let him draft players after the game starts. To some extent, that is what happens in the world of politics whenever a new President takes the oath of office. On January 20th at noon, when the reins of power are handed over to the new President, he is now the head coach in a global and political Super Bowl, and it will be some time before his entire team is selected, vetted, confirmed and fully in place. Whoever the President picks for his team is a good indication of how his Administration views the world and what their priorities will be.
The new President typically comes from the political world, with some public record of views and positions that serves as a compass for future actions. As the old adage goes, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance.” In the case of President Trump, who has no formal political experience, there are only two indicators that give us a compass to understand his path forward. First is his campaign rhetoric that fueled voters to choose him, and second, who he surrounds himself with in his Cabinet. While all Cabinet members are important in their respective roles, there are a handful that are of critical importance to the sugar industry.
The Secretary of Agriculture: Sonny Purdue, former Governor of Georgia, was the last Cabinet member to be chosen and the most important to rural America. It is a good solid pick from our perspective. His cousin, David Perdue, is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Secretary was Governor of Georgia when North Dakota Senator Hoeven was Governor of North Dakota, so those relationships are important. He should have a very good relationship with the Senate Ag Committee, which will be important as we work through the development of the next farm bill. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall is from Georgia and that is a very big plus for Agriculture, and especially for the southern crops. We have a very strong working relationship with the cotton and peanut industries over many years.
What is now important is to see who will fill in the ranks at USDA to administer U.S. sugar policy and oversee the development of the regulations implementing the biotech disclosure law passed last July. We will begin briefing them on our issues as soon as they are confirmed. It is uncertain as of this writing how quickly that will occur.
A group of agriculture leaders met with the Trump agricultural transition team on January 4 to share our concerns and priorities that will be provided to the proper agencies as they settle into their new roles. I made four basic points for the sugar industry. First and foremost, defend U.S. sugar policy and administer it properly so our market is not oversupplied, which harms producers.
Second, fix the trade problem with Mexico.
Third, base nutritional recommendations by the government on sound science--not agenda-driven activism.
Fourth, highly refined products derived from biotech plants such as sugar should not have to be disclosed on consumer labels, since beet sugar is the same as cane sugar.
Now let’s look at the other Cabinet positions that are critically important to sugar. The three trade advisors to President Trump will be the Secretary of Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House National Trade Council.
Secretary of Commerce: Wilber Ross is an investor and former banker. He is best known for restructuring failed companies in industries such as steel, coal, telecom, foreign investment and textiles. He understands how and why foreign competitors have harmed our industries and how best to fix the problems here at home while competing in a global economy. If he understands the challenges by the steel industry, he certainly will understand the challenges sugar faces in a heavily distorted world market. He is believed to be the lead trade advisor of a team of three.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR): Robert Lighthizer was the Chief of Staff of the Senate Finance Committee under Bob Dole (1978). The Finance Committee is responsible for all international trade agreements. He then became the Deputy USTR in the Reagan Administration, so he has lots of experience on the Hill and at USTR. While out of government, his law practice focused on bringing many antidumping and countervailing trade cases against companies and countries that subsidize and dump products (particularly steel) that harm U.S. companies. He perfectly understands and has dealt with many situations that are similar to our problems with Mexico.
White House National Trade Counsel: Peter Navarro is a Professor of Economics, University of California, Irvine (Harvard Ph.D. in economics). He has written books on how China is taking advantage of the U.S. in trade relations, which is why President Trump has focused so much on our trade imbalance with China. Again, this close advisor understands the reality of bad trade policies with major global players.
Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt is the Oklahoma Attorney General and has sued the EPA to block its Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Pruitt has also sued the EPA on behalf of Oklahoma utilities unwilling to take on the burdens of additional regulation of their coal-fired plants. He criticized the Agency in a congressional hearing.
There is a common thread that weaves its way through all of these choices. They are all experienced people who understand the threats against American businesses that drive them out of business or send their jobs abroad. President Trump wants to reward the rust belt states by bringing jobs back to those areas (Carrier in Indiana, Ford in Michigan, etc.) The only way that happens is if you lower corporate taxes, get unneeded regulation off the backs of the private sector, lower health care and other social costs, strengthen infrastructure and lower national deficits and debt. Made in America, bought in America. I think his leadership choices in the key areas where we have concerns bodes well for our industry.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.