The position of chief agricultural negotiator within the office of the U.S. Trade Representative has been vacant since the start of the Biden administration, but Congress took the first step toward filling that role this week. Dave Salmonsen, senior director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the Senate Finance Committee hearing was the first step in the confirmation process.

"The Senate Finance Committee had their hearing for Doug McKalip, who is the nominee to be the chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Salmonsen said. "This was their hearing to ask questions, get his answers, and then they'll decide at a later date to vote whether to refer his nomination to the full Senate for a vote."

Salmonsen said the committee members want to hear from the nominee about opportunities for increasing U.S. agricultural exports.

"Where would the best countries that we could do that, how would we enforce existing trade agreements to make sure we got the most out of what we had done in the past, and also a lot of questioning about the administration's trade agenda, and why the administration was going in a different direction with not pursuing the traditional trade agreement approachSalmonsen said.

Salmonsen says McKalip provided a look into what his priorities would be as chief agricultural negotiator.

"He talked a lot about how, as far as improving exports, through making sure other countries didn't have regulatory barriers - a lot of his background, has been in regulation - that we needed science-based standards, making sure countries weren't just throwing up protectionist barriersSalmonsen said. "He also defended, of course, the administration's approach to things like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aren't traditional trade agreements. They're not about doing market access and not about trying to lower tariffs. He talked a lot about the opportunities in Southeast Asian countries, a lot of potential for growth, and also explained how we really wanted to focus on moving more product into China."