President Donald Trump’s plan to put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports entering the U.S. may result in a better trade deal in the NAFTA renegotiations, says U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Farmers are skeptical, however, fearing a trade war will ensue. Canada, Mexico and China, as key U.S. trading partners, could retaliate by slapping tariffs on U.S. exports of corn, soybeans, beef and pork. That would drive crop and livestock prices even lower than they are now.
The trade issue was one of several topics mentioned by Perdue, speaking in Des Moines Tuesday night (March 6) at the annual Iowa Ag Leaders Dinner. He was there to administer the oath of office to Bill Northey, the new USDA Undersecretary of Agriculture. Addressing an audience of about 600 people, Perdue said Northey will be an outstanding USDA undersecretary. “Iowa is sending one of its best and brightest to Washington,” said Perdue.
Goal is to get a better deal for U.S. in NAFTA
Regarding Trump’s tariff proposal, Perdue said “the president believes strongly in America first and the American people first. That includes American agriculture, and that is what the president is working toward.” By proposing the tariff plan on steel and aluminum imports, Trump “may have put the U.S. in a better position to obtain a better deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement than we could otherwise get.”
Earlier this week, Trump indicated he may withdraw or soften his proposed tariffs if Canada and Mexico would make concessions in renegotiating the NAFTA agreement. Canada is the largest supplier of steel to the U.S., and “President Trump wants a good deal in renegotiating NAFTA, and I think he will get one,” said Perdue.
Northey resigned as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture on March 5 and began his new job at USDA in Washington on March 7. His deputy secretary, Mike Naig, was sworn in as the new Iowa Ag Secretary on Monday to fill out Northey’s term which runs through 2018.
Perdue says he and Trump strongly support RFS
Northey, as USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, will oversee the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency. “Bill Northey will lead these agencies which provide services directly to farmers,” noted Perdue. “Nothing is more important at USDA than serving farmers, and with Bill’s help, USDA will emphasize improving customer service.”
Perdue also said “President Trump, Sonny Perdue and Bill Northey will fight for the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is very important to American agriculture and to the American people.” The RFS, a federal law requiring the blending of ethanol and biodiesel into the nation’s fuel supply, is being threatened by the petroleum industry which is lobbying the Trump administration and Congress to dismantle the RFS.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, blocked Northey’s confirmation for four months, trying to gain concessions to reduce or get rid of the RFS. Finally, Northey was confirmed on February 27 by the U.S. Senate, after a meeting at the White House attended by Trump, Cruz, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and others. Perdue denied that any deals were made with Cruz, who represents an oil-producing state. Perdue said, “the president is engaged in this issue and he sent us back to the negotiating table with different kinds of ideas to consider.”
Glad to finally have Northey on board at USDA
“After months of waiting, I’m thrilled to finally have Bill Northey on board at USDA,” Perdue said. “The patience he displayed throughout this process is an indicator of what kind of steady leader he will be on our team. Bill comes to us at an important time, as farm incomes are down and are expected to fall further. Additionally, with work on the 2018 Farm Bill already underway, Bill will play an integral role in the advice we at USDA offer to Congress.”
Northey, addressing the farewell gathering for him in Des Moines, said “I’m leaving as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, which is the best job of a lifetime, because I want to do even more to serve farmers.” Perdue said he convinced Northey to take the position of USDA Undersecretary in Washington by telling him “you’ll be able to work to better the lives of farmers across the nation.”
Successor at Iowa Ag Department ready to serve
Northey said the choice to name Mike Naig to fill out Northey’s term as Iowa Secretary of Ag was made entirely by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds but “I strongly approved of the choice.”
Northey didn’t offer any of the other candidates who are running for the office any official endorsement. Naig faces four challengers in the Republican primary June 5. The winner will face a Democrat candidate in the November 2018 election.
“When he joined the department in 2013, Mike never saw himself as taking over this role of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture,” said Northey. “But now he is more than ready. He has been a full partner with me the last four years.”
Northey thanked all the employees of the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship for their work and support these past 11 years. Northey has rented out his farm in Northwest Iowa to a relative, who is farming it.