Leadership Required from the US President

country map on brown wooden surface

Joe Biden has promised to be “a president for all Americans.”

This obviously includes farmers, who are often lumped together politically but in fact are a diverse bunch. Some of us voted for President Trump. Others chose Biden—in an election that defied the polls and was a lot closer than the pundits had predicted.

American flag on buildingIn remarks delivered shortly after his apparent victory, Biden promised to be a president “who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States.” Then he pleaded, “let’s give each other a chance.”

Every new president deserves this opportunity.

What we expect from him is leadership.

The first thing Biden can do for farmers is nominate an excellent Secretary of Agriculture. The speculation about who will get the job is already underway. My hope is that he’ll pick somebody as good as Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who served in the position for the entirety of President Obama’s two terms.

I had my disagreements with the Obama administration, but with Secretary Vilsack in the cabinet, I thought that farmers always had a voice at the table.

I also had my agreements with the Obama administration, especially with its call for the United States to enter the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade alliance that promised to improve export opportunities for all Americans, including farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, President Trump opposed TPP. On his first day in office as President, he signed an executive order that removed the United States from the coalition.

President Trump said he wanted better trade deals, and he managed to get one with Canada and Mexico, when his administration replaced NAFTA with the USMCA. He also began to confront China on trade, launching a series of trade disputes that were frustrating for farmers who rely on Chinese customers but also perhaps were necessary because of the abusive behavior of the Chinese government, which violates trade deals, steals American technology, and oppresses its people.

It turns out that TPP may represent one of the best ways to take on China. The 11 nations that once had partnered with the United States on TPP didn’t abandon the agreement. Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam went on to sign their own accord.

The arrangement not only improved their economic ties, but also gave these Pacific Rim nations a way to resist China’s growing influence in the region. Their deal both improved the flow of goods and services across borders and also enhanced their national security.

Even President Trump saw the benefits: Two years ago, he asked his economic advisors to search for ways to rejoin TPP.

Biden should complete the job.

During his campaign for president, he stayed mum on TPP. The reasons for joining, however, became more compelling last week, when China signed a big trade agreement with 14 other nations in what the New York Times calls “a pact designed by Beijing partly as a counterweight to American influence.”

Japan already is worried. If Biden wants to strengthen ties with our longstanding allies, as he has claimed, then TPP represents a genuine opportunity. It makes more sense than ever before.

It requires a leader who wants to make it happen.

Finally, Biden would be wise to let farmers know that he doesn’t want to burden us with new regulations. This was probably my greatest frustration with the Obama administration, especially for the so-called “Waters of the US” rule, in which the Environmental Protection Agency sought more control over farmland and private property. The Trump administration wisely stopped this bad idea.

We don’t need more bad ideas, such as new restrictions on crop-protection technologies and livestock farming. Instead, we need an administration that makes decisions based on sound science. We need an administration that will let farmers make their own choices about how to grow food and help us to sell it.

Most of all, though, we need a leader who views farmers not as a problem but as a solution to our greatest challenges, from climate change to economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re ready to give Joe Biden a chance to lead. Let’s hope he gives us a chance as well.

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Daniel Kelley

Daniel Kelley

Daniel grows corn and soybeans in partnership with his brothers and son. Long history with agriculture cooperative systems, providing leadership to GROWMARK and CoBank.

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