NFU urges public and transparent process for any future trade assistance
WASHINGTON – Amidst reports that recent trade deals may have a more gradual and modest impact on agricultural exports than initially thought, President Donald Trump on Feb. 21 tweeted that “aid will be provided by the federal government” if necessary.
Though National Farmers Union appreciates the administration’s ongoing support for farmers affected by trade disputes, the organization has been critical of its haphazard approach to development and implementation. In a letter sent today to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, NFU President Roger Johnson urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to follow a “public and transparent process.”
Echoing earlier sentiments, Johnson expressed concerns about the complete exclusion of Congress from trade assistance decision making during both rounds of the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), particularly considering the significant sums of money involved. “When the first iteration of MFP was announced in the summer of 2018 . . . the USDA did not seek input from the legislative branch and spent approximately $10 billion over the course of six months,” Johnson wrote. This “opaque process” drew widespread criticism, potentially undermining support for future farm bills and agricultural spending.
The first two rounds of MFP were marked not only by the absence of collaboration but also inadequate review and an absence of long-term solutions. “MFP was used as a quick fix, spent $14.5 billion in a matter of months, and did not tackle larger problems in the farm safety net,” said Johnson, adding that the implementation was “rushed” and “seemingly spurred by a similar presidential tweet.”
To ensure that any additional trade assistance is a “sound investment” and “does not erode the underpinnings of future farm policy,” Johnson compelled USDA to work closely with Congress on any future trade assistance packages. “Our members appreciate the much-needed help MFP provided in the last two years, but also know that this program must do better,” the letter reads. “I strongly suggest that USDA work with the House and Senate agriculture committees to convene a joint hearing to receive public comments, explore the present challenges with our export markets, and to consider sound policies for distributing financial assistance.”