Fresh Food

Perdue Tackles Trade, Tariffs, Farm Bill in United Fresh Keynote

Agriculture 'tip of the spear' in trade debate
Photo by WGB Staff

While the disruption in trade relations with China is unsettling to many in agriculture, President Donald Trump’s goal of changing China’s behavior, if successful, will enable American farmers to reap the benefits, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told attendees of United Fresh 2018 in Chicago during his keynote address June 26.

Relaying how, in 2011, a group of Chinese nationals dug up genetically engineered seeds from an Iowa cornfield with the intention of stealing and reverse engineering them, Perdue said the incident stands “as one of countless pieces of evidence in the case against China for intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices.”

“When trading partners break the rules, there must be consequences,” Perdue said, noting that he has been charged by the president to craft a strategy to support our farmers in the face of retaliatory tariffs. In the realm of “free, fair trade, we know that agriculture is at the tip of the spear,” said Perdue, who confirmed the administration’s firm stance. “We will not allow our agriculture producers to bear the brunt" of intellectual property infringement.

While introducing Perdue, United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel commended the key cabinet member for being “a proven leader for agriculture, helping the administration and Congress both to understand the importance of feeding the world.”

Perdue covered a range of topics relevant to conference attendees, including the key issues facing the produce industry, immigration reform, the need for a legal workforce, the 2018 Farm Bill, and dietary guidelines, the latter of which he said remain crucial “to communicate and educate Americans, even in this fast-paced world.”

Hailing the bipartisan passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last week through the House of Representatives and commending House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway “for their diligence and hard work,” Perdue is hopeful a new bill will be passed through both chambers prior to its deadline in late September.

Acknowledging to the produce industry’s mission to guide Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables, Perdue noted they must first be harvested from fields requiring a legal, reliable and stable workforce.

"Our farmers and producers are the backbone of your industry,” he said, noting that many of types of products are difficult to handle mechanically.

Accordingly, the USDA is working on a proposal to streamline, simplify and improve the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program in order to reduce what he called complex rules and cumbersome bureaucracy, and ensure adequate protections for U.S. workers.

“I don’t think you should have to hire a lawyer or an accountant to hire a farm worker,” he said. “Farmers need long-term legislative solutions.”

Perdue also touched briefly on the administration’s proposal to reorganize and streamline the structure of government agencies, namely, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, to bridge “the maze of convoluted rules and regulations that leads to noncompliance” and inefficiencies. “Let’s give our producers a single set of rules for food safety and compliance.”

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