KANSAS CITY, MO. – While certain aspects of trade policy are expected to remain the same for meat and poultry processors, new challenges and opportunities loom as the United States transitions to a new commander in chief, according to a recent presentation by the former chief agricultural negotiator with the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Speaking at a Dec. 9 webinar that was part of the North American Meat Institute’s (NAMI’s) three-day Post-Election Outlook Series, Ambassador Darci Vetter, global lead of public affairs and vice chair of agriculture and food with Edelman, looked ahead at what processors could expect in terms of global trade after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office in January.  

Darci Vetter, global lead of public affairs and vice chair of agriculture and food with Edelman

During the second day of the event, focusing on policy issues affecting the meat industry, Vetter speculated that in the short term, the Biden administration will likely make its priority addressing the fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) before tackling the complexities of trade relations and agreements.

“We can expect that a Biden administration will focus first on…COVID recovery and thinking about having a clear domestic economic strategy before they focus on building new trade agreements,” Vetter said.

Vetter recalled how, at the time of the 2016 presidential campaign, controversy swirled around the increased emphasis on trade liberalization and the perceived benefits of globalization. She pointed out how this contrasted with what was formerly a more, “bipartisan consensus around opening new markets and pushing toward greater trade liberalization.” Vetter went on to assert that, as vaccines for COVID-19 become more widely distributed in the United States, a domestic economic plan will need to be rolled out to rebuild the country’s economy, while linking the strategy with some of the “America-first” policies that have been prevalent in the previous four years.

She went on to explain how the Trump administration’s approach to trade negotiations has used the singular lens of considering trade deficits with individual countries as the primary indicator of fairness. Assuming a partnership is unfair to the United States because it imports more goods from a given country than the country purchases from it, isn’t necessarily sound policy.

Vetter cited the US-Mexico partnership as an example, pointing out that Mexico, “has about half of our population and a lower income,” she said. “I don't think it's cheating to say that we're going to buy more from Mexico than they can buy from us".

She said it is likely that the emphasis on deficits will disappear, as well as the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to settling all trade issues.

Vetter also addressed US-China issues, speculating that in the near future, there will be a shift away from the utilization of tariffs as a primary means of retribution when it comes to future agreements. She said the United States’ negotiating leverage could be bolstered by working closer with US allies and applying joint pressure on China’s trade officials. Vetter said the potential means by which to provide such pressure going forward include continued involvement of the United States in the World Trade Organization, the G-7 and the G-20.

Vetter said United States can realize a better negotiating position by “using our international alliances and institutions to, again, put that pressure on bringing China into the alignment more with international norms and rules.”

Vetter added that the new administration will face decisions that will likely need to be made early regarding China’s multiple tariffs. China-based goods with some of the most significant tariffs include steel, aluminum and engines, which indirectly affect trade of agricultural products. Some companies have secured exemptions from these tariffs, Vetter said, although most of these exceptions are set to expire Dec. 31. Because the tariff exemptions make significant differences for input costs for several key industries in the United States, Vetter said the Biden administration will have to make difficult decisions regarding whether negotiating these exemptions would be beneficial.