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Commissioners reach out to Trump, USDA

International trade disputes can impact local industry.

And in support of one of those industries, the Warren County Commissioners reached to — and heard back from — the USDA and the Trump administration.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin detailed the initiative at a recent commissioners meeting and county staff subsequently provided copies of the various correspondence to the Times Observer.

The county’s initial letter to Sonny Perdue, secretary of the USDA and Ambassador Robert Lighthizer who serves as U.S. Trade Representative, came after a local hardwood business raised concerns over the ongoing trade disputes with China.

“Because China has supplied a strong appetite for sustainably managed, American grown hardwood products, it has become an important trading partner for hardwood producers,” the commissioners note in the Dec. 9, 2019 letter. “We understand and much appreciate the Administration’s commitment to confront many of China’s unfair trade practices in the pursuit of a lasting fair-trade deal.”

“Unfortunately, tariffs are a blunt instrument and retaliation to them has come swift to the U.S. agriculture and forest products communities.”

The county explained that the Market Facilitation Program — which provides subsidies to entities impacted by retaliatory tariffs — excludes hardwoods in spite of the fact that “hardwood producers do not have the option of switching crops as a hedge to market uncertainty…”

In addition to asking for that relief, the commissioners said they “encourage the Administration to seek a quick and equitable resolution to current trade tensions.”

Perdue’s January response affirmed that hardwoods are excluded from the Market Facilitation Program and identified a program — the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program — which aims to develop new export markets for U.S. agricultural products.”

Lighthizer, whose position falls under the Executive Office of the President, emphasized in a Feb. 3 letter that a trade agreement the administration reached with China back in December “includes commitments from China to import a variety of U.S. goods and services, including hardwood products, over the next two years in a total amount that exceeds China’s 2017 annual import level by no less than $200 billion.

“China’s commitments,” he continued, “should contribute significantly to the rebalancing of the U.S.-China trade relationship.”

Congressman Glenn Thompson’s office “did a stellar job listening and meeting with constituents,” Kafferlin said, noting his is pleased that the county’s efforts “bore some fruit.”

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