Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue sees deadline on trade woes


July 5, 2018 | View PDF

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addresses the crowd in Colfax Monday. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is at right.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers spoke to a crowd of Whitman County farmers and ag suppliers at the headquarters of McGregor Co. in Colfax Monday.

Perdue made the stop as part of a "Back to Our Roots" tour of northwest states and Alaska, visiting ag facilities and meeting with local leaders, farmers and foresters.

In the process, in Colfax, he told about a hundred people of a target date of Labor Day to tamp down recent trade and tariff concerns for U.S. agriculture.

First, after a lunch provided by the McGregor Co., the gathered took seats in the tiered lecture room and Alex McGregor, chairman of the company's board, introduced McMorris Rodgers.

She made a few comments before introducing Perdue.

"The American farmer has done more than any anti-poverty program around the world," McMorris Rodgers said.

Perdue came up, made few comments, saying he was here to listen and began to take questions.

A representative of Spokane Seed Company asked about the Food Safety Modernization Act.

"Every farmer wants to have safe food," Perdue said. "Just tell us how to do that without an inspector or auditor showing up every week."

He mentioned a place to give feedback and ask more questions later: usda.gov/tellsonny.

One questioner noted new trade tariffs were making farmers nervous.

"Making farmers nervous, I'm nervous," Perdue said. "Food security is national security. In the last 20 years with what has happened with oil, imagine if we had to go to war for food."

He then laid out a plan and timeline to address the trade concerns which derive from tariffs proposed and adopted by other countries in response to new U.S. tariffs on imports like steel and aluminum.

Perdue focused on Canada, Mexico and China, in that order.

Once the first two were addressed by way of renegotiation of NAFTA, Perdue said attention would then turn to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an 11-nation pact the U.S. was part of during negotiations before support waned and President Trump pulled the U.S. out of after he took office.

New NAFTA talks had been on hold awaiting Mexico's election Sunday, he said.

"TPP would give us a good front against China," Perdue said.

He put out a Labor Day deadline to work out the trade matter.

Mark Frei, a farmer and county commissioner from Central Idaho, asked Perdue where the president's mind is on agriculture, noting that he is a fan of Trump.

"Where do we rate?" he asked.

"You're actually asking me where Trump's mind is on anything?" asked Perdue, to laughter.

He then answered, talking about his discussions with the president about the agriculture part of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and noting a difference between him and the president on trade deficits, saying that Trump believes trade deficits are essentially a transfer of money from one country to another.

Perdue said he thought the U.S. trade deficits often are an indicator of the strength and buying power of the American economy.

"I believe my role is to be an unapologetic advocate for those growing stuff throughout the land," Perdue said, a former Air Force captain, farmer and two-term governor of Georgia.

"The president tells me all the time; 'You tell 'em Sonny. We're gonna make it better'." Perdue said.

"Who would've thought that 17 months into his administration, he'd be sitting down with the leader of North Korea. Nobody."

Perdue concluded with another relay he said came from the president.

"You assure the American farmer that we're not gonna let them bear the brunt of these trade disruptions," Perdue reported.

Another question came from Sarah Ryan of the Washington Cattlemen's Association about "fake meat" and matters regarding FDA and USDA compliance.

"Compliance is about having rules for people to understand," Perdue said, noting the system is too complicated as it is.

The last question was about country-of-origin labeling.

After Perdue answered, he concluded the session by again calling for input at usda.gov/tellsonny.

"We are very serious about hearing from you," he said.

Crowd at McGregor Co. in Colfax

A crowd gathered at the McGregor Co. in Colfax to hear U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speak.

Afterward, Perdue spoke to a few reporters in the hallway foyer of McGregor.

He reiterated that he aimed for a mitigation strategy by Labor Day on the trade and tariffs matters.

"I tell the president, farmers are some of the most patriotic Americans, but they can't pay their bills with patriotism," he said.

"We need to resolve this by Labor Day or we resolve to do something else."

McMorris Rodgers was asked if she is more optimistic, or less, about the trade situation.

"There's just a lot of uncertainty..." she said. "It's still uncertain."

After the Colfax lunch, the two went to WSU to meet with administrators and tour a plant growth facility.

Perdue and McMorris Rodgers began the day with a breakfast with agriculture and forestry leaders at the Spokane Club.


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