In action late Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee cleared the way for a vote on the full Senate floor for Alexis Taylor for the position of USDA’s undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Taylor now joins U.S. Trade Representative chief agricultural negotiator nominee Doug McKalip who also awaits a vote by the full Senate.
USDA recently cut its fiscal 2022 agricultural export forecast and projected an agricultural trade deficit for fiscal year 2023. U.S. agriculture has for decades had a trade surplus, which has led agricultural groups to continue their request for a timely approval on the Senate floor of the ag trade nominees.
During Taylor’s nomination hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Sept. 22, she received bipartisan support and agricultural groups urged for swift action.
During her testimony, Taylor told the committee that “ag is not just what I do, but who I am.”
Taylor grew up on her family’s farm in northeast Iowa, a farm that has been in her family for more than 160 years. She has spent her entire career as a dedicated public servant working for American agriculture, most recently as the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and also previously at USDA during the Obama administration in the role of deputy secretary at USDA’s Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
“Taylor understands trade and agriculture and will be an asset to USDA as they help farmers and rural communities recover from the pandemic,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said during her nomination hearing.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., says, “Up until recently, ag trade was one of the few contributors towards a positive trade balance – we need to return to ag being a net exporter.”
Boozman continues, “Farmers and ranchers across the U.S. do not know what this administration’s trade goals or plans are to expand market access for their family farms. I have confidence that Ms. Taylor and Mr. McKalip, the nominee to serve as the chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, have the skills and abilities to help our producers, but I do question if they will be receiving the support they need from the White House.”
Many agricultural groups expressed support for Taylor who they have served with during her previous roles at USDA and Capitol Hill. She was a Senate legislative staffer during the development of the farm bill which established the USDA trade undersecretary, the position she is now nominated to hold.
“Alexis is someone with a deep understanding of agriculture, and she is widely respected by policymakers on both sides of the aisle,” says Brooke S. Appleton, vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association. “We are very excited by the prospect of having someone of Alexis’s caliber serving in this role.”
“She is a proven advocate for farmers and ranchers,” adds National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus. “NCBA urges the Senate to swiftly confirm Alexis Taylor as USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs so she can get to work advocating for expanded trade opportunities for America’s cattle producers.”
Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, says, “It is imperative that we have a full team of negotiators on the field to bolster American exports and having Alexis Taylor as undersecretary of ag trade at USDA is essential to doing that.”
North American Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts says, “She is the right person at the right time to lead the nation’s focus on strengthening exports, expanding access to new markets and navigating an increasingly unpredictable global economy. We look forward to working with her especially as meat and poultry products are seeing record demand at home and abroad.”
Urging action on McKalip
Last week over 100 agricultural and food organizations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urging the Senate to approve McKalip. His nomination has been stalled since June.
Kuehl says that Sen. Bob Menedez, D-N.J., has placed a hold on the nomination of McKalip. “Regardless of Senator Menedez’s intentions behind the hold, further delaying the ag negotiator position is self-defeating and a disservice to American farmers who rely on exports,” says Kuehl. “We encourage Senator Menendez to work with the administration to lift the hold as soon as possible.”
In the letter, the groups expressed concern over the delay, pointing out that they are “reminded daily of the need for greater attention and emphasis from the [Biden] administration on agricultural export market growth.”
“Agricultural trade deficits, once unimaginable, are now reality, underscoring the need to have in place a Senate-confirmed negotiator dedicated to pushing for new agricultural markets and removing barriers to growth in existing ones,” say the organizations, which asked the Senate to confirm McKalip “as soon as possible.”
“It is important to have an advocate like Doug McKalip fighting for U.S. agriculture within USTR who will defend and promote our interests in diverse, growing markets by reducing trade barriers, expanding market access and ensuring a level playing field for our exporters,” adds Potts.