The Trump administration is in no mood to bow to China on trade, and U.S. farmers should not expect the massive Chinese soybean export market to open up soon, a deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated in St. Paul on Tuesday.
"We're in a period right now where it is up to China whether they are going to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith," said Steve Censky during a visit to his native Minnesota. "If we can get a good deal from China, we should take it, but it has to be a good deal. We should not capitulate to China at any price."
Censky said he had been optimistic that an agreement was close at the beginning of May, but China "reneged, backed away from the commitments they had been making" on "market access barriers in agriculture" and intellectual-property rights for foreign companies operating in China.
Censky said China has been a "bad actor" for a long time, that farmers understand that and that what he's hearing from farm groups is the need for free trade but an understanding that the U.S. government must hold firm in negotiations.
Censky, a Jackson, Minn., native, was CEO of the American Soybean Association for 21 years before being appointed as a deputy secretary of agriculture in 2017 by President Donald Trump.
He visited northern Minnesota this week and met with AgriGrowth at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in St. Paul on Tuesday morning. Officials from CHS Inc., Cargill, Land O'Lakes, Hormel and dozens of farm groups met with him behind closed doors.
"The secretary got an earful," said Pat Lunemann, chairman of AgriGrowth and a dairy farmer near Clarissa. "Everyone understands the need for China to play fair, and so far ag has been willing to go along with taking the brunt of the burden. But at some point farmers are going to get tired of it."
Lunemann said he's "surprised at the support that continues for the administration."
Censky said he does not expect any resolution to come from the G-20 summit next week in Japan.
The key next step for farmers is for Congress to ratify the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, known in the U.S. as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Those negotiations were thrown into uncertainty when Trump threatened to slap tariffs on Mexican goods if that country didn't take steps to stop undocumented immigration across the border. But Trump called off those tariffs in early June, saying Mexico "has agreed to take strong measures to stem the tide of migration" from Central America through Mexico to the U.S.
"I think we have put that issue aside," Censky said. "They have stepped up to take action on immigration. They're deploying their national guard to their southern border with Guatemala. They are, I think, taking it seriously that they need to address that."