President Obama has requested approval from Congress to consolidate six federal trade and commerce agencies. This consolidation plan concerns the U.S. Grains Council, according to USGC Vice President of International Operations Rebecca Bratter, because of the impact it will have on agricultural trade.
"Right now the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, we work with them very closely, they have a special office for agriculture, they have a special ag negotiator who has ambassador level status and we count on that person to represent our interests in any ongoing trade negotiations," Bratter said. "For us and all of agriculture where we would like to express our concern is that this consolidation process if it goes forward as it is being proposed would fold in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative with a number of other agencies."
Those other agencies include the Small Business Administration, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Department of Commerce.
Bratter says the purpose of this consolidation is to help small businesses navigate through the various agencies that conduct trade. Streamlining the processes and making those easier is a good thing, however she says the concern is the office of the U.S. Trade Representative will be consumed by priorities of other departments and not have time for the ag sector, which is unique from other sectors.
"Throughout all of the worst years of the economic recession in the U.S. it was kind of recession proof, ti was one of the few sectors that continually posted growth," Bratter said. "In 2011 we had a record year; we exported about $137 billion of ag exports, which was an increase of about $20 billion from the year before. We all know ag generates jobs; they say that for every billion dollars in ag exports it supports about 8,000 jobs in the U.S. Also, we've got a number of really critical ag negotiations coming up for the Trans Pacific Partnership, there's talk about a U.S-EU free trade agreement, there is still the possibility of a Doha Round and we want to make sure that the USTR continues to have a department dedicated to agricultural trade."
The key point for USGC Bratter says is for the USTR to maintain its special power and role in U.S. agricultural trade negotiations. USGC doesn't want the USTR to get swallowed up by other agencies.
Bratter says the council wants the agency to retain its cabinet-level status, the ag negotiator to remain an ambassador and have specific staff dedicated to ag so those interests are properly represented.