According to reliable North Pole sources, the global winner of Santa's dreaded "Lignite Stocking Award" (named for the cheapest and dirtiest grade of coal to be found) has already been determined. At the very least, recent Scrooge-like comments made by Ted McKinney, USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, strongly suggest that he is the Grinch to beat.
When Agriculture.com questioned Undersecretary McKinney this week about the future of NAFTA, he sounded like a disgruntled elf sick of being blamed for missing Christmas ponies. Mindful of the big guy's tendency to over-promise, McKinney quickly dismissed farm and ranch visions of foreign trade sugarplums.
Here's how the cheerless Undersecretary counseled the understandably anxious children of agriculture waiting to sit in Santa's lap: "[I] would advise anybody to be prepared with contingencies," despite the administration knowing "very well where the farm and ag industries stand."
And then, just to make sure that last bit of mistletoe and hopeful greenery had been swept from the room, McKinney droned a sad carol, reminding his interviewer that the ongoing talks to renegotiate NAFTA simply aren't going as well as hoped, and abandoning the trade agreement still seems to be a real possibility.
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Frankly, I find the undersecretary's comments to be both callous and incredibly ignorant of the vital working nature of agriculture. He might as well as have said, "Don't worry if Santa gets fatally stuck in the chimney or Rudolf goes rogue and joins ISIS, you still have your contingency plans."
Does McKinney really believe that NAFTA business matters so little to U.S. producers that it can simply be replaced by individually organized "Plan Bs?" You know, like when the captain of the Titanic announced to his crew and passengers, "You may now feel free to implement the Plan B of your choice."
Yes, I'm exaggerating to make a point. But probably not as much as the undersecretary and the Trump administration assumes. When Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross chastised the agricultural sector last month for "screaming and yelling" over NAFTA renegotiations, he prefigured the "it's-not-such-a-big-deal" arrogance just trumpeted by the newly minted undersecretary of trade.
In short, I fear these guys still don't get it. They don't fully understand what an incredibly large economic engine NAFTA represents, not just for U.S. farmers and ranchers, but for millions of Americans who benefit from its enormous ripple.
So for every letter you write to Santa this season, send two or three to the president and members of Congress. If they think we're nothing but spoiled brats looking for another present to shake, so be it. The NAFTA stakes are too high to fret over their "naughty or nice" list.
For more of John's commentary, visit http://feelofthemarket.com/…
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