As the chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Gregg Doud has been involved in many major trade negotiations impacting U.S. farmers in the past three years, including those with Japan, Mexico, Canada and China.
Doud and several other USTR representatives met with commodity groups and agricultural organizations in Washington state this week including wheat, beef, hay, apples, cherries, tree fruit, hops, potatoes, raspberries, blueberries, shellfish, dairy and the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
Doud spoke with the Capital Press Oct. 6. The interview has been edited for length.
Q: What brings you to the Northwest?
Doud: The opportunity to come out here and see some country I haven't seen before, meet with some producers and go over some issues with regard to some of the success stories we've had, but also get a better understanding of some of the things we need to continue to work on here in the agricultural space specifically related to China, Japan, Southeast Asia and also having some conversations with some folks about the U.K. as well.
Q: Is China keeping up its end of the Phase 1 trade deal so far?
Doud: So far we have done very well with China on Phase 1. In the Phase 1 agreement, if you read the document, in the agricultural section, chapter 3, there were some 57 structural changes China agreed to make. By our count, at this point, we believe 50 of those 57 changes have been completed.
Before we started the discussion with China here in late 2018-early 2019, the U.S. had roughly 1,500 facilities in agriculture that were eligible to export their products to China. I'm happy to report ... after those structural changes have been made, we have over 4,000 facilities eligible to export their products to China. That's a big change.
Q: What opportunities does the situation with Britain and the European Union present?
Doud: The European Union is a difficult discussion for us in agriculture. They have a lot of non-tariff trade barriers with us. Frankly, they're pretty protectionist in Europe on agriculture. The result is we have an $18 billion trade deficit just in agriculture with the EU. We've tried to engage with them to get some of these non-tariff trade barriers fixed, and we're continuing to struggle with that.
One of the areas that we're hopeful that we'll make some progress is as the U.K. leaves the European Union. We've just finished our fourth round of trade negotiations with the U.K. I don't really have a timeline yet, but I am optimistic on the agricultural side that we're going to have an ability to make some changes in our trading relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.
Q: When you enter negotiations, how much are you thinking about farmers?
Doud: I grew up on a farm in Kansas, so I think about that a lot, as a guy who grew up growing wheat, grain sorghum, corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle. I still own part of the farm and I'm a partner in a cow-calf operation back in Kansas, so I still am very closely tied to that.
We have a large number of ... advisers or stakeholders, and a big chunk of those are farmers, that we interact with as we go through these negotiations to make sure that we get things right.
Q: Other things on the horizon?
Doud: The first point I would make is that in the last couple of years here, in our engagements with Canada, Mexico, Japan and China, we have overhauled our trade agreements with those four countries. When it comes to agricultural trade, of our $141 billion in agricultural exports, those four countries are 47% of that trade.
Q: Is that nerve-wracking for you? How sensitive are negotiations?
Doud: "Nerve-wracking" isn't the word I would use. I would use the word "tedious." You have one shot to get it right. In agricultural trade, folks have to appreciate how technical — all the scientific standards, all the food safety issues, all the sanitary and phytosanitary issues and all the technology used in agriculture today. You have to go through all of this in detail to make sure you get it right.
One of the examples is our negotiation with China. That was 33 negotiating sessions, hundreds of hours we spent in rooms negotiating out all of these terms of trade to make changes to standards to open up access for U.S. agricultural exports to China that we've never had before.
Q: Do you enjoy the work?
Doud: To me, it is the notion that we make a big difference on the ground for folks that are producing these commodities. When you give the context of China — total U.S. exports are $141 billion. What's interesting about that number is, we think China's total ag imports from the world this year will also be right at $141 billion. Total U.S. ag exports to the world are the same as China's total ag imports from the world.
Our best year into China was 2017, with about $24 billion. With the Phase 1 agreement, we're trying to take that to about $40 billion. Going from $24 billion to $40 billion should be very doable. What you have to do is make these structural changes, these changes to standards, increase the number of facilities eligible to export. That's on the fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and grain side. We've made an enormous number of changes here. Now it just takes time for that market to grow. Hopefully we've opened up our ability to do that for some time in the future.
Q: How did your time working for U.S. Wheat Associates prepare you for this job?
Doud: Oh, it was a great experience. You know, my first job out of graduate school at Kansas State, I was the first assistant director of the U.S. Wheat office in Portland, in 1991. That year, we brought in 35 foreign trade delegations from all over the world. What a great experience for a young guy off the farm in Kansas to see how folks from all around the world view our ag products.
Back then, it was the same as it is today: Folks everywhere in the world understand we grow the best food in the world. We have the best products, the safest products and everybody in the world knows and appreciates that. It's a matter of getting our governments and regulators talking to each other, and building those trading relationships ... that stand the test of time.
The best example of that is the relationship between wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest and the Japanese. That is a relationship U.S. wheat farmers and wheat farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have worked on for 70 years now. That's what we aspire to in the rest of agriculture.
Q: President Trump will occasionally tweet or make a comment and keep the market on its toes. Does that make your job harder? Is it a factor?
Doud: The president understands that you've got to work with other countries to create leverage to open markets. In my career, I've never seen anybody better at it.
But it isn't just one guy. It's my boss, Ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer; his boss and also the career people at USTR, USDA and the Foreign Agricultural Service around the world. I work with folks at USTR who are the best of the best. There are the big issues we talk about, with Japan and (the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) and China. But (there are also what we call) the singles and doubles, all the little things that we work on every day. There's lots of credit to go around, but it's a team effort.