Former Ag Sec. Johanns Doubts Biden on Trade, Says Farmers Need Meatpacking Options
By Elizabeth Rembert , Food, Energy and Agriculture Reporter Nebraska Public Media, Harvest Public Media and Will Bauer, Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Oct. 14, 2021, 5 p.m. ·
Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said he’s seen enough of President Biden’s leadership in the Oval Office to believe the administration won’t take meaningful action in trade policy.
The former U.S. Senator and Nebraska governor hopes he’ll be proved wrong, but his political experience gives him the sense that trade is not a priority for the president.
"I'm not optimistic that we're going to see a list of trade agreements that have been negotiated or improved or changed or modified," he said. "In the end, I'm not sure that it's going to be as aggressive as it needs to be."
Johanns made the comments during a Monday interview for Nebraska Public Media's “Speaking of Nebraska" that airs Thursday. He says following through with a Trump administration trade deal that demands China buy more American products is especially important, as farmers will be the ones to suffer if the administration fails to hold up policy.
China has been important to increases in crop and livestock prices. The trade deal helped, but Johanns said an outbreak of African Swine Flu that wiped out the Asian country's swine production kept it purchasing American goods. China has bought corn and soybeans to feed new herds as well as increased pork imports to replace stocks.
The former secretary also sees countries beyond China as valuable trade partners. India and Africa stand out to him, and he views Taiwan as a country full of potential Nebraska beef eaters.
He also said in the interview that consolidation in the meatpacking industry is a problem for Nebraska cattle producers. Nebraska, a beef state, is home to three of the four largest meatpackers in the world. Those four control more than 85% of the red-meat industry, and some cattle producers see them as a monopoly.
Meatpackers now are making larger share of the profits, while some cattle producers see their share of the money dwindling. Some of those farmers and ranchers believe the four companies should be broken up. The solution, Johanns said, will be investments in other packing plants to increase competition.
“I’m not expecting this to happen dramatically," Johanns said. "I’m not expecting it to happen very quickly. But I think producers would benefit by having other options. So, we’ll see, but that’s not an overnight solution; I’ll guarantee that.”