When the president nominated Islam "Isi" Siddiqui as chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative last September, many in California agriculture cheered. Siddiqui, in his near three decades with California Department of Food and Agriculture, fought off the Mediterranean fruit fly and a host of other pests which threatened the Golden State's many crops.
We stopped following the nomination, because after a November hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Siddiqui's confirmation ought to have been a given. Not to the anti-pesticide crowd. In recent years, Siddiqui has been a vice president of CropLife America, representing the trade association in regulatory and international trade issues. That's a lightning rod to some folks.
Depending on whom you use for a source, from 82 to more than 100 or so organizations sent out statements opposing Siddiqui's confirmation. Some, on Internet postings, called him the ambassador from Monsanto.
The political heat was fierce among Democrats, often seen as allies of environmental groups. So last week, there was Isi Siddiqui's name among the 15 nominees that President Barrack Obama declared March 27 to be "recess" appointees. That's the polite word for moving ahead when the Senate balks at calling a confirmation vote.
Obama deserves a cheer for sticking by his guns. His new negotiator is a knowledgeable and personable guy.
And despite his silent rebuff by the Senate, we'll bet that Siddiqui sticks by the words he used last November to end his answer to the last question posed in the nomination hearing: "As the administration develops its trade policy agenda going forward, I fully appreciate the importance of an open and inclusive dialogue with Congress on trade. If confirmed, I can assure you that I will come to you early and often to consult and to listen."
In California, Siddiqui, the highly trained plant pathologist, gained a reputation for tactfully explaining science to politicians and all manner of lay people. He laid the foundation for what is now the independent Department of Pesticide Regulation and even-handed management of a far-flung inspection system.
Siddiqui left CDFA after 28 years. In 1997 he became an undersecretary of Agriculture. After leaving the Clinton administration, he was part of a biotechnology think tank before taking the CropLife job. American agriculture will benefit from Siddiqui's broad knowledge, and his patient way of approaching problems as the on-going trade negotiations crank up after fits, starts and resorting to bilateral pacts that marked recent years.