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By Casey Wooten
Congress and the Trump administration “better get moving pretty quick” to put trade officials in place to help support agriculture exports, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said.
Top Trump trade priorities, like renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement or taking a tougher position on trade with China, would heavily impact the farm economy. NAFTA members Canada and Mexico, as well as China, are top importers of U.S. agricultural goods.
Roberts said U.S. trade policy should boost agricultural exports to help offset low commodity crop prices in the U.S.
“Farmers need to see a green light on an aggressive trade policy that moves the product,” Roberts told reporters March 7.
The Trump administration’s pick to be U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, is scheduled for a nomination hearing in the Senate Finance Committee March 14.
But many senior Office of the U.S. Trade Representative posts, like deputy U.S. trade representative, chief agriculture negotiator and deputy chief of staff, remain vacant.
Six weeks after his nomination, the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to announce a confirmation hearing for Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Agriculture Department.
Roberts told reporters that he and committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are still waiting on Perdue’s background and disclosure documents from the Trump administration before they can schedule a hearing.
“We would have to get the paperwork, which I’m very hopeful we’ll get this week,” Roberts said. “Then we have to—I say, we, both sides, Sen. Stabenow and myself and the rest of the committee—we have to make sure everything’s in order.”
A White House aide told Bloomberg BNA March 3 that a paperwork backlog at the White House is the cause of the delay, but the Trump administration would send the paperwork to the Senate soon.
Roberts said he wasn’t sure what was causing the delay, but stressed the need to have someone representing agriculture interests as the White House crafts major trade policies like a NAFTA renegotiation.
“We need to get him down there; we need a strong champion for agriculture inside the Cabinet,” Roberts said.
— With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich
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