Perdue, in a meeting with The Forum Editorial Board, said he shares agriculture's anxiety over trade. At various points of his visit, the secretary relayed conversations he's had with Trump to try to impress upon the president how trade moves could impact rural America.
"I think agriculture's voice is reaching the White House," Perdue said.
Perdue visited Fargo on March 9 at the request of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. Besides the visit with the editorial board, which included some Agweek staff, he toured the USDA Agricultural Research Service Red River Valley Agriculture Research Center in Fargo and American Crystal Sugar Co.'s sugar beet processing facility in Moorhead, Minn., attended a luncheon with North Dakota Collegiate Farm Bureau members and a roundtable discussion with North Dakota ag leaders alongside North Dakota's congressional delegation and governor.
The roundtable, which also included Hoeven, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Gov. Doug Burgum and former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, drew comments from most participants about trade — the importance of maintaining and expanding trade, issues of fair trade, and what would happen if the U.S. lost access to valuable markets like Canada, Mexico, China and Japan.
As the conversation moved, Hoeven asked presenters to keep their brief speaking time to topics that hadn't already come up. While that likely cut down on some trade conversations, plenty of participants aired their trade concerns.
Mark Martinson, president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association, stressed the importance of keeping the markets encompassed by TPP — an agreement that continued on with 11 countries after Trump pulled the U.S. out of it.
"We cannot lose ... all those markets," he said.
But Martinson also pointed out needed tweaks to NAFTA, which remains under renegotiation. U.S. durum only can be sold as feed-grade in Canada, while Canadian farmers have no such impediments to selling in the U.S., he explained.
Perdue said the feed-grade grain issue fits with the protectionist Canadian dairy provisions in things that need to change for truly free trade. And he expressed enthusiasm for Trump's comments that he may consider rejoining TPP.
The need for continued trade agreements continued to come up as the conversation moved around the table. Doyle Lentz, co-chair of the National Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative asked Perdue to support at least bilaterial agreements with the countries in TPP.
"We have to have trade," he said.
Larry Kinev, representing the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, also stressed the need for fair trade and said cattle producers, including cow-calf operators, backgrounders and feedlots, had suffered since NAFTA.
"We've lost thousands upon thousands of them since the NAFTA agreement," he said.
Dwight Keller, with the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota, asked Perdue to be cautious regarding beef trade with Brazil after the country was found to be allowing exports of poor quality and dangerous meat.
North Dakota was the 34th state Perdue has visited since taking over the USDA. He expressed an enjoyment for such trips, saying it helps to hear the concerns of producers across the country.
"I'm a strange guy, I actually enjoy these kinds of visits," he told the editorial board.
Perdue said he had been very anxious about the aluminum and steel imports the president has imposed when he first heard about them.
"And I still am to some degree," he said.
Perdue said the issue of potential retaliation from other countries certainly is an issue, and he pointed out that agriculture uses a good deal of steel, making it a two-fold problem.
However, he also said he was pleased the president had included some flexibility in the plan, taking Canada and Mexico out of the tariff conversation and opening the door for dialogue with the European Union about eliminating them for those countries, too.
Hoeven said even before the tariffs were publicly announced, Perdue was seeking solutions to potential problems, including possibly getting the Commodity Credit Corporation up and running to help provide protections for farmers.
"He's not only working on it on behalf of ag, he's anticipating it and coming up with solutions," Hoeven said.
Perdue also noted that wrapping up the NAFTA negotiations would relieve some anxiety in agriculture, as would moving forward on talks with other countries.
"The president is a really interesting negotiator," Perdue said, noting the way Trump has operated in his business life as well as so far in his presidency. "I think in some situations it's working, and we'll have to see how it results."
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March 19, 2018 at 10:03AM