It has been eight years since Washington, DC welcomed a new president, and each inauguration brings a flurry of activity and a grand sense of interest in how the new leader will address a multitude of challenges the nation faces going forward. With President-Elect Trump having no public office experience, there is no history that would allow people to project how he will govern. There is only campaign trail rhetoric to give a sense of what his leadership will look like. Many have withheld judgement while waiting to see who he surrounds himself with in his cabinet and high ranking advisors. There are surprises in some of the positions, but a common thread among all of them is that they are smart, successful and have tough leadership skills. They will focus on reducing and streamlining the government while building private sector businesses and jobs. You will see a very unconventional governing process in the months to come.
I can hardly wait to hear President Trump’s inaugural address on January 20 and his first address to the joint session of Congress/State of the Union (early February). He will lay out his agenda and vision for the future and let members of Congress know, both Republican and Democrat, that they must make good and tough decisions in a timely fashion or he will call them out on it. It will be a dramatic and fascinating four years.
Congress now has a very busy schedule before it, but it may well be the most productive legislative calendar in decades. Senate confirmation hearings, debate and confirmation for political appointees and the Supreme Court nominee will take a good deal of time. There will be long days and late nights to get all of the work done.
What does all of this mean for sugar? As an industry, we will have to navigate this new political environment to make sure your interests are heard and issues that impact you are responded to properly. Until all of his leaders are in place and his agenda well defined, there are no precise answers at the moment to his game plan, however, there are good indications from the President Trump’s general views. He understands the unfairness and ruthlessness of global markets and competition. Strategic commodities like sugar and steel face foreign subsidies and dumping in the world market that ruin industries and steal American jobs, requiring a response to the predatory trade practices. We shall see what he does with proposed or existing trade agreements. If he chooses to negotiate bilateral agreements rather than plurilateral (multi-country) agreements, we will be back into trade negotiations in a significant way. He is certainly outraged by the outsourcing of businesses and jobs to Mexico, so we should get a good listening ear on our biggest trade problem at the moment.
He wants fiscal responsibility, and we have a sugar policy designed to operate at no cost to the taxpayer.
Agriculture and rural America was his key base of support in the election. On agricultural policy--which he knows little about--he will defer to congressional leaders for advice and counsel. He wants regulatory reform, which would be very helpful. The ASGA is working with Farm Bureau and other ag-related groups to bring about comprehensive regulatory reform.
He has not publicly commented specifically on agriculture biotechnology, so we will be watching for his views and the position of the new Secretary of Agriculture (not nominated as of Dec. 19) on this issue as the regulations on biotech ingredient labeling and disclosure in food are developed. As the fog of uncertainty begins to lift on the new administration, we will keep you apprised of the changing environment.
We will be working hard in 2017 to fix the problems related to the imports of sugar from Mexico that is causing very serious problems in the marketplace; educating new members of Congress about our industry and policy; laying the groundwork for the farm bill in 2018; and getting the proper regulations written for the genetically engineered disclosure law.
Finally, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Tom Schwartz, Executive Vice President for the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, for his 28 years of dedicated service to our industry. Tom and I had a close and wonderful working relationship that was essential to the development, deregulation and defense of Roundup Ready sugarbeets, along with other research matters related to sugarbeet production. We fought many battles together and it was great to work with him. On behalf of the nation’s sugarbeet growers, I want to wish him great health and happiness in his retirement.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.