This week, I stopped by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and met with Governor Perdue’s Chief of Staff and Policy Advisor, Brian Klippenstein. It was a short visit but we all agreed that we desperately need to get Sonny Perdue confirmed. All of the ag departments, from trade, forest service, nutrition programs, farm programs, and on and on need their leaders. We don’t have them because we don’t even have a Secretary of Agriculture.
Fortunately, at least, we have a date set for confirmation – 5:30 pm on April 24.
There are a lot of reasons for the delay, but one that did not get attention until recently was the fact that Senator Menendez (D-NJ) had put a hold on Perdue’s confirmation. Why? Because Sonny Perdue has always supported ag trade expansion, including trade with Cuba. Menendez has always fought against doing anything with Cuba.
Another major concern for the ag industry is that we don’t have a U.S. Trade Ambassador confirmed yet either. President Trump met with the Chinese President last weekend and pushed agriculture trade, but he didn’t have our Trade Ambassador with him because he isn’t confirmed. Our candidate is Robert Lighthizer. He enjoys strong bipartisan support, but there is controversy over a waiver that he needs. At one time, he represented some foreign governments. For some reason, that is just another road block.
Lighthizer served as Deputy Trade Representative for President Reagan. When President Reagan took office, he inherited a grain embargo against the Soviet Union. Being shut out of that market was killing U.S. farmers. At my request, President Reagan lifted the embargo.
After the embargo was lifted, the Soviet Union wanted some assurance that we would not be closing the ag trade door on them again. We needed a "grain trade agreement." Deputy Trade Representative Lighthizer helped to negotiate that agreement which I signed with the Soviet Trade Minister in 1981. Lighthizer knows agriculture. Here is what he had to say in response to a question from Senator Pat Roberts: "Senator, I have a long history with agriculture. I assure you we will prioritize agriculture."
The sooner we can get our Secretary of Agriculture and Trade Ambassador confirmed, the better for our industry and our country.
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit johnblockreports.com.