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Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue went on a trade mission to Mexico Nov. 6 to 8 to forge new opportunities with U.S. agriculture's largest bilateral trading partner and second-largest export market. The secretary was joined by more than 100 industry and government representatives. (USDA photo by Pablo Lomelin.)

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently returned from a trade mission to Mexico.

“I thought we had a very successful trade mission down there. We achieved our goals,” he said. “Obviously, generating new export opportunities for our collaborators and cooperators here.”

More than 100 representatives from state agencies and several different business sectors attended. Perdue estimated there were about 600 business-to-business meetings to help generate new export opportunities.

One of the topics that came up was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.

“Obviously Mexico is as anxious as we are to have that ratified here,” Perdue said. “They’ve already done their work as you know and they’re anxious for us to complete our task here.”

Perdue said it was a trust-building meeting with Mexican Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development Victor Manuel Villalobos. Ultimately, Perdue invited Villalobos to the Ag Outlook Forum along with colleagues from Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

During a meeting with Perdue, U.S. ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau demonstrated his passion and knowledge for agriculture.

“He already knew a lot about it,” Perdue said. “He was a great presence and that could be a big, big help.”

Perdue and his cohorts discussed various issues between the U.S. and Mexico, such as biotech and a few other pertinent topics, including labor and immigration.

“That was one of the primary issues we wanted to talk about—was the labor issue and encouraging Mexico to do what we feel like other triangle countries are doing and pre-certify. Particularly those farmers and people in southeastern Mexico,” Perdue said.

In that region, the “poorest of the poor would like to come to the U.S. for economic opportunities,” he said. They often provide a reliable source of ag labor in this country. Perdue said Mexican officials seemed interested in finding a solution.

“Obviously, it would be a win-win situation our agricultural producers here,” Perdue said. “We need the labor, and hopefully we’re making progress over modernizing our H2A rules and having some legislative input coming soon and can facilitate that.”

Perdue found Mexico to be very interested in that, and raising the standard of living in southeastern Mexico particularly.

“I pointed out the fact that they can come here and earn a good living from based on their standard of living here in a seasonal way,” he said. “Then even go back to what the trainings learned here, and become small stakeholder entrepreneurs in their own country.”

When questioned further on labor, Perdue reiterated the agreement between the two countries for a modernized H2A program. He wants the program to pre-certify people who are qualified to come to the U.S., and help train those workers as well as teach them what is expected of them in a more formal way.

“This will allow our producers here in the U.S. to have a pool of people from which to draw from,” Perdue said.

There’s been issues with recruiters who haven’t been playing by the rules, and Perdue hopes the re-vamped H2A program can prevent difficulties for the State Department.

“I think they liked that idea, and being able to participate in the pre-certified identify the people,” Perdue said.

He sees the improvements as a win-win and a way to resolve irregular or illegal immigration “that we’ve been plagued by having an avenue for these people to come in a legitimate government-to-government type of certified program.”

Perdue finished the briefing by discussing disaster payments. In recent years, those payments have gone to producers affected by hurricanes and fires, but flooding and prevented planting has been a problem in 2019. The original disaster provision approved in the spring was capped at $3.2 billion.

“We will go the insurance route initially to determine the degree of damage,” Perdue said. “But the challenge will be the while the money was capped the time period was all the way through 2019. So, we’re going to have to talk and see if the money’s going to match up with what the demand out there is.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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