U.S. trade policies under President Donald Trump have drawn both criticism and praise from U.S. agriculturalists. Gregg Doud, who's helped to negotiate those policies, said they've enjoyed success.

After the first 10 months of 2020, ag exports are up "2% despite COVID and the global pandemic and what's going on. I think that's pretty remarkable," said Doud, chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U. S. Trade Representative.

He spoke Dec. 10 at the annual Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks, N.D. The event, hosted by a number of North Dakota and Minnesota commodity and general farm groups, was held online this year, with all the sessions on one day instead of the normal two.

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Much of his presentation dealt with China. U.S.-Chinese trade talks, often acrimonious, have been a source of considerable confusion and concern to many in U.S. ag. But the situation has improved greatly, Doud said.

"Our ag exports to China so far this year are up 69%. In fact, the October trade data that came out not long ago (found) that this was our third-best month in history for U.S. ag exports," Doud said. "Not only that, it was our best month ever for soybean exports . . . I think that speaks volumes as to the accomplishments we've made with China in agriculture."

What's more, "I think there's the potential for November to be even better," he said.

Laborious process

U.S. and Chinese negotiators began talking roughly two years ago. Doud said he and his Chinese counterpart held 33 negotiating sessions working on the so-called phase one agreement, with each lasting four to 12 hours.

Much of the discussion involved "vastly different regulatory systems, going issue by issue, negotiating," Doud said. "We negotiated, debated and argued over every sentence in that agreement about three times."

Translation was particularly difficult, "making sure what they had and what we had were the same." One example: an hourlong discussion on what "one word meant between Chinese and English," he said.

By the U.S. count, China agreed to make 57 "structural changes," Doud said.

As a "real-world" measure of success: Once, about 1,500 U.S. facilities were eligible to ship their ag products to China. Now, more than 4,000 facilities, including meat processors, alfalfa pelleting facilities and pet food companies, can send their wares to China, Doud said.

"I think we're now in a really good position going forward" with China, he said.

Doud criticized the European Union's ag policies, which he described as "completely outrageous." The EU has launched what it calls its "Farm to Fork" strategy. In Doud's opinion, "It should be called 'Farm to Empty Fork' because if the Europeans are actually successful with what they are implementing, they're going to produce a lot less food, export less food and import more food."

He encouraged people to check out a recent analysis of the strategy by the Economic Research Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's available at https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=99740.

Doud said he didn't know when asked by an audience member how U.S. trade policy would change under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.