Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trade is focus of reorganizing USDA, analysts say

The proposed reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was set in motion by two documents, a section of the 2014 Farm Bill calling for an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs and an executive order by President Trump that triggered "a 'broader on-going review of the department' and also included other departments of the executive branch," opine Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, in their latest edition of "Policy Pennings."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sent Congress a report this month that "makes the argument that 'Agricultural trade is critical for the vitality of the U.S. farm sector and economy as a whole…. However, the rise of new barriers to trade and preferential trade agreements that exclude the U.S. could jeopardize growth and negatively affect the U.S. farm economy," Schaffer and Ray write.

The report "set forth actions that the USDA was taking to 'meet the challenge of advancing agricultural trade, improve 'service delivery to agricultural producers' and address 'the needs of Rural America,'" Schaffer and Ray write. "The action driving the design was the decision to move the Foreign Agricultural Service out from under the undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services . . . The FAS would be the only agency to report to the new undersecretary."

USDA says it "must be positioned to effectively address trade barriers that impede or disadvantage U.S. agricultural exports and actively open new markets for U.S. farm products," Schaffer and Ray note. Perdue's report says "The change from the status quo would lead to many other possible factors that would be expected to increase exports. For example, the more focused trade mission area could support more trade missions, provide greater support for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative."

Schaffer and Ray write, "Whether or not the reorganization makes sense from an administrative perspective, we would caution farmers to adopt a wait-and-see attitude when it comes their expectations of the impact of the new structure. Over the last 35 years, we have seen numerous changes that were designed to make U.S. agricultural products more competitive in the international marketplace."

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