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The agency advising US trade is trucking ahead on farm policy as the president’s chief agricultural negotiator nominee stalls in the Senate, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said.
The position of chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the USTR has been vacant for more than a year amid global disruptions including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and volatile fertilizer prices. Senators for months urged the president to nominate someone to the key post. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) last month blocked his nominee, Doug McKalip, over transparency concerns at the agency.
“In terms of the work that we’re doing, I don’t feel hampered without that person,” Tai said of the stalled nominee, calling her agency’s agriculture team “the elite of the elite” in a meeting Friday with Bloomberg reporters and editors.
“If our farmers and our farm state senators would like us to do even more than we already are, and to bring our game to the next level, Doug McKalip will be a great addition to my team,” she added.
McKalip, a trade adviser at the Agriculture Department, has broad bipartisan support in the Senate. The Finance Committee approved his nomination without a “no” vote.
But Menendez’s office said that, while he supported the nominee in committee, he’s waiting on “assurances from USTR to establish greater oversight and transparency of U.S. trade policy led by the agency.” The senator has previously called for an inspector general at the agency, saying it needs to be more open in its negotiations with Congress.
The Agriculture Department, too, is awaiting confirmation of a major agricultural trade nominee, Alexis Taylor. Taylor, who also has support from both parties and advanced out of committee easily, is the president’s pick for the Agriculture Department’s under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
Industry groups and senators alike have called for the speedy confirmation of agricultural trade nominees, noting that rising food and farm input prices are adding to an atmosphere of uncertainty for producers. They’ve called on the nominees to promote better market access for American farmers in foreign countries, if confirmed.
To contact the reporter on this story: Maeve Sheehey in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org