Editor’s note: Ray Starling, special assistant to President Donald Trump for agriculture, trade and food assistance, briefed media April 24 on the next day’s agriculture roundtable and on the planned executive order regarding regulatory reform. These are excerpts from the press briefing. The full transcript is at http://bit.ly/2phxuyi.
Question: Trade has been such a big issue for the administration. Can you tell me about how this group will discuss trade and how that fits into —
Starling: Absolutely. I think there is a lot of conversation in the ag community now about how we are a net contributor to lessening the trade deficit. Ag believes we are doing a good job. We obviously grow more food than we can eat in the United States. …
We know that our real potential is in countries where incomes are growing and in countries where populations are growing. So if you look at agreements like NAFTA, if you look at the negotiations that happened in TPP, certainly on the table there were good things there for ag. I think there was renowned recognition across the ag communities that should this become our agreement, this is good for us. I believe those things now become a part of the new conversations, even in these bilateral agreements, to the extent that we’re not pursuing multilateral, large trade agreements like the TPP.
Q: So this task force is going to be looking at identifying regulatory policy challenges for agriculture. It seems like the White House has done a lot of these. I mean, is there anything in particular that the White House now has in mind that they feel like is hindering agriculture?
Starling: There’s a large debate, I think, internationally about biotechnology, not just here in the United States, but that’s a very good issue that ties into the trade question. To the extent that we are going to sell our products overseas, we need to make sure that we have the biotech approvals in those foreign markets that we need.
So looking at how we do that across the government, there are a number of players involved in that. It’s not just the USDA; it could be FDA, EPA and certainly those folks that are responsible for international trade as well.
I would also point out, think about FSMA implementation, the Food Safety Modernization Act. For the first time over the course of this administration, FDA will be responsible for farm regulation with regard to things like water and soil additives. So there’s a lot of talk and concern in the ag community that we make sure those regulations, as they are being created and promulgated, that they recognize the difference in small farms and big farms, the difference in water sources, the difference in terms of application so that one size does not fit all.
I would also throw out farmers need crop protection tools when they are faced with insects or pests, and how we move those products to market in a safe and effective way will certainly be something I think the task force would take seriously.