U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Forei

Taylor getting to work on trade

January 24, 2023 | Jeff Hutton

“We cannot have a strong rural economy unless we have strong export markets.”

That’s part of the message from Alexis Taylor, the newly confirmed U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.

Taylor, a northeast Iowa native, says those strong export markets are key to American farmers, including Iowa’s soybean producers.

Trading challenges

Among the challenges in her new role, Taylor says she is focused on how to grow a feeding world, navigating a changing climate and eliminating barriers to new trading opportunities.

“As I think about it, one of the tools we have is trade,” she says. “We’re at a critical intersection in trade in navigating food security and the climate crisis. International agricultural trade is crucial.

“What are the lessons we’ve learned in what we’re doing in the United States, and how do we apply it with our international partners.”

Taylor says on a recent trip back home to Iowa, she drove around and saw climate-smart practices under way.

“It was not just no-till farming practices, but more advanced conservation practices like precision spraying and cover crops,” she says. “We want to share that experience with others.”

At the same time, Taylor adds that she does not want the climate conversation to become a barrier to trade opportunities.

“Trade is going to be so critical for our agricultural communities,” she says noting diversifying markets and investing in America’s trading partners like shipping more potatoes to Mexico and meat products to countries like Israel.

In terms of fair trade, Taylor says she wants to ensure “that our trading partners live up to their agreements” and that our expectations are realized.

Soybean perspective

Taylor says the soybean industry is heavily export dependent, so she wants to look at rebuilding and reestablishing relations with China – America’s largest export market.

But she adds that she wants to go beyond China and other current trading countries seeking new partners for U.S. soy.

Diversifying our markets will be a challenge, Taylor says, but “what I’m interested in is providing and developing trade policy that’s really a balance … rethinking and rebuilding trust in the agriculture trading system. We need confidence in that trading system, including looking at tariff barriers and knocking them down.”

Lessons from home

Taylor, who grew up on a farm outside of Holy Cross in Dubuque County, says the lessons learned during her formative years, helps shape her new role at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think about those experiences growing up,” she says, noting the demanding work exhibited by farmers and ranchers.

“I call upon the lessons I learned every day,” she says. “I still have family who are farming and use them on their challenges that they are experiencing in helping guide me and to keep me rooted.”

And as a public servant, Taylor says she approaches her new position with the perspective of former President Dwight Eisenhower: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a 1,000 miles away from a cornfield.”

“As a policymaker, I never want to be that far away from a farm. That’s always really run true for me,” she says.