Reports from IPPE

AFIA on trade in Trump era: 'Think outside the box'

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

The US feed industry looks to protect its interests as uncertainty lingers over the future of trade agreements.

It is unclear what may happen next regarding international trade agreements with countries in the Pacific Rim region, after the Trump administration announced it will not be continuing efforts with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the waters have been muddied also in relation to trade deals with US neighbors, Canada and Mexico, said Gina Tumbarello, director of international policy and trade with the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).

She spoke to FeedNavigator about the implications of such discussions at the International Processing and Packaging Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta.

“Beyond TPP, where the administration’s mindset is on further trade policy discussions and direction I’m not entirely sure,” ​said Tumbarello. “Perhaps, once we get all the cabinet confirmations finalized and everybody in their roles, we’ll have a better indication of where things are going.”

The US Department of Commerce may start to be more involved with agricultural trade, she said. “From that standpoint just understanding the inter-agency collaboration, and who is going to be leading trade policy efforts, and how that will effect agriculture specifically – because agriculture is not exactly represented in the Department of Commerce –  I think there’s just a lot of unknowns,”​ she added.

The advice for agricultural producers at the moment is to continue to talk about the importance of trade for the feed industry, said Tumbarello. “We really are a champion for our economy – our exports are going up, we have a trade surplus and we have so much more room to grow,” ​she added.

“Demand is continuing to grow outside our borders, so we have that constant battle of making our presence known and helping our administration understand the true value of exports,” ​she said. “We want to make sure that we don’t get left behind, that our interests and concerns, all the benefits that we’ve reaped from trade, aren’t negatively affected.”

TPP and TTIP

After an executive order, the US has withdrawn from the TPP.  

“There was a lot of optimism and excitement about the potential for the TPP agreement, and with the withdrawal from that, we’re in a position where we have to have a different mindset and think outside the box,”​ she said. “Industry right now is thinking about how we can still protect our interests in the Asia-Pacific regions.”

That part of the world offers the potential for expansion, she said. However, the trade agreement also included aspects like tariff reduction and improved sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures that continue to be important, said Tumbarello.

“Exports are the future for us and we know that there’s going to be a growing demand for feed products and feed ingredients, and that demand is going to come from overseas,” ​she continued. “But we’re not going to capture it unless we can find ways to get past the hurdles.”

Moving forward, without the TPP, there may be opportunities for bilateral trade agreements with other countries in that region, she said. Additionally, efforts will continue to focus on educating the administration about the industry’s interests in the region and hopes for future agreements.

There also are some questions about the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), said Tumbarello. 

“We really were pulling some aspects of TPP into TTIP and, because of that, one could presume there might be components that the administration might want to review, regarding TTIP, before moving further or taking it to the next step of negotiations,” ​she said.

Additionally, it is unclear what role Brexit will have on that discussion, and if the US and the UK would move toward establishing a bilateral agreement before returning to efforts with the EU, she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,”​ she added.

NAFTA

In regards to the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, there could be potential to “modernize”​ NAFTA, said Tumbarello. “We’re talking about an agreement that is 23 years old, [and] some might even say it is outdated,” ​she added.

Areas for review could include the sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures and how to make the regulation more cohesive, said Tumbarello. 

“I think that would be a definitive opportunity to us if the administration did decide it wanted to take another look at NAFTA,”​ she said.

However, the US feed industry has benefited from the agreement, said Tumbarello. AFIA’s interest in being a part of those potential discussions would be to protect the successful portions of the deal that are already in place, she added.

“We’ll be working on making our voices heard, making sure that the administration knows the values of those markets and the importance of continued market access and some areas that could be addressed,” ​she said.

In terms of Cuba, the US has made some progress since 2015 on trade normalization. However, the trade expert reckons it would be better to wait for a more opportune time to address some of the outstanding issues there.

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