Perdue briefs Illinois farmers on trade, farm bill progress

USDA secretary cautiously optimistic that trade relations with China moving in right direction.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr., left, walks with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue through the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago on Monday following Perdue’s comments to farmer-delegates. (Photo by Jeff Brown)

By Jeff Brown

Fresh off a weekend announcement that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping made progress on trade negotiations at the G20 Summit, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue told Illinois farmers Monday that the news sounds very promising, “but it’s never over until it’s over.”

Speaking to delegates at Illinois Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, Perdue also provided updates on the farm bill and the recent signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Trump has reportedly agreed to temporarily hold off on raising tariffs on imports from China, while Xi agreed to immediately lift trade barriers on U.S. agricultural products and other goods.

“I’m excited about the possibility of China buying our stuff again, instead of stealing our stuff. That’s really what it’s all about,” Perdue said to applause from delegates, referring to theft of U.S. intellectual property by the Chinese.

Progress with China wasn’t the only good piece of trade news to emerge recently. Trump also signed the USMCA, although the updated North American Free-Trade Agreement still requires ratification by Congress.

And last week, leadership in the Congressional agriculture committees announced they reached an agreement in principle on a new farm bill. Perdue said he initially hoped that the full text of the new bill would be available this week, but it could instead be next week before it’s released.

“I think we’re going to get one (a new farm bill),” Perdue said. “We believe that things are going to be relatively good. We didn’t get everything we’d like in there, but frankly, that doesn’t deal as much with production agriculture.”

Perdue said the bill doesn’t include hoped-for provisions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements or components that would help proactively manage against forest fires.

The core of the crop insurance program remains, however.

Video: Perdue takes questions from the media following his remarks.

Perdue stressed the need for farmers to remain active in contacting their legislators to push these and other important initiatives across the finish line.

“No longer, ladies and gentleman, can we stand behind our farm gates and say ‘just let me produce,’” he said. “There’s nothing we should be ashamed about in American agriculture, but we have to tell people about it.

“You’ve got to be advocates, and there’s no better organization to advocate through than Farm Bureau.”

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