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By Thomas Phippen
Republicans in the Senate are calling on newly-confirmed agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue to support agriculture trade in President Donald Trump’s administration.
“As you assume your new position in the Administration, I call on you to be a champion for free trade,” Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse wrote in a letter to Perdue Tuesday. Trump’s administration “has provided little certainty that they understand the importance of free trade policy and its many benefits for America’s farmers, ranchers, and small businesses,” Sasse wrote.
Sasse asked Perdue to advocate for free trade in North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations, requested that he prioritize U.S. leadership in the Pacific following the administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), immediately begin negotiating bilateral trade agreements, and seek to expand market access and focus on competition rather than escalate trade disputes.
“Because no one benefits from a trade war and unfair trade practices, it is imperative to seek the continual breakdown of trade barriers so that the free movement of goods can take place,” Sasse said.
Trump recently said he is considering action to help American dairies after Canada’s supply management system allegedly blocked imports of a certain kind of milk. The U.S. dairy industry claims Canada unfairly lowered the price of its own “ultra-filtered” to reduce American imports.
Dealing with the Canadian dairy dispute should be Perdue’s first priority, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said. “We need to make sure that Canada rescinds their unfair policy and plays by the rules”
Other Senators have expressed hopes that agriculture won’t be forgotten as Trump looks to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA. Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said she hopes Perdue will advocate for “promoting our agricultural bounty abroad.”
Perdue was confirmed easily with 87 Senators voting for him, including 35 of the 46 Democrats in the chamber. After a three-month long confirmation process, even most Democrats were ready to have a leader at the Department of Agriculture. (RELATED: Senate Finally Confirms Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Three Months After Nomination)
After Justice Clarence Thomas swore Perdue into his new role as agriculture secretary Tuesday morning, Perdue said he was ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
— Sec. Sonny Perdue (@SecretarySonny) April 25, 2017
“For months, rural America has not had a voice in this administration — and it shows,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said in a statement Monday. “President Trump’s budget proposal makes it clear that rural America is not a top priority for his administration.”