To listen to a speech by the Secretary of Agriculture is sometimes an exercise in the familiar. The humor and some of the information you hear gets repeated. While Ag Secretary Mike Johanns isn't running the risk of sounding stale, his message is pretty clear: President Bush is going to halve the deficit by 2009 and USDA is going to be a team player.
During a media conference following his speech to delegates of the 2005 Commodity Classic in Austin, Texas, Johanns talked about reopening the 2002 Farm Bill in the middle of the five-year program. "When I testified at my confirmation hearing I noted I was more popular when I had [budget] money versus times when I did not. So many things have happened and the president has made a step forward in leadership. That leadership says he wants to cut the deficit in half by 2009."
He notes that USDA is not the only agency that faces cuts, and that many agencies are facing budget decisions. Johanns mentioned several times that fixing the economy would be good for agriculture in the long haul.
Johanns also notes that during World Trade Organization negotiations there is a worry about cutting ag spending, which might change the U.S. negotiating position. In answer, Johanns says it is prudent for the president to cut the budget even during WTO negotiations. "We cannot run a $400 billion deficit, it is not good for agriculture," he says. He notes that other WTO members have offer support for the president's approach.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement is getting support from the American Soybean Association and the National Oilseed Processors Association. Johanns notes he doesn't know when the Bush Administration will move the agreement to Capitol Hill. "The sugar industry is against the agreement because they say there's a negative impact to the agreement, but there is no negative impact," he says. The secretary notes that Central American nations already import 99% of what they produce with no tariffs under other agreements.
CAFTA would open the door for corn and soybean exports duty free to the region almost immediately after signing the agreement. "I'm going to put every bit of energy I have into [promoting CAFTA passage]," he says.
On Reopening the Canada Border
"March 7 is going to happen. I feel strongly that we must move forward," Johanns says. He notes that the imports only allow meat and live animals under 30 months of age and that there is really no risk to human or animal health in reopening the border.
He adds that the border must reopen. With news that the Canadian beef processing industry has been growing at a solid clip, he adds that if the market didn't reopen, in a few years "I might have to answer questions about why I let all the beef processing move north of the border."
Johanns spent time visiting exhibitors at the Commodity Classic trade show - he did the same during a visit to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in January.