Dubai: Ted McKinney was in Dubai on Monday, making the pitch that despite concerns over protectionism stemming from US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was looking to build up two-way trade with the region.
McKinney, who is the first person to hold the position of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, said that part of his reason for attending the Gulfood Exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center on Monday was to “remind ourselves that trade is a two-way street".
"We are not going to be selfish about this, and if there is a company that wants to invest in the US, bring plants here or bring products to the US, we're interested in doing that.”
He said Trump’s comments regarding trade protections had not complicated his job.
'Not always fair trade'
“If it has [complicated my job], I don’t know about it,” he said. “I think the thing that is important is we need to take President Trump seriously, but perhaps not always literally. So let me explain. He is absolutely right in that it’s not always fair trade.”
He said that if a product met safety standards, then by and large the product would be allowed in the US.
“The reverse is not always true,” he said.
“There’s a bob and a weave, a blockage, a sanitary issue, a phytosanitary issue, which may or may not be real, often times it’s not real. So in that sense the president is right in that it needs to be fair trade.”
According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, imports of agricultural products from the UAE totaled $29 million in 2016.
Leading categories included essential oils ($6 million), processed fruit & vegetables ($5 million), snack foods ($4 million), tea ($3 million), and spices ($1 million).
$1.2 billion UAE food imports from the US
According to the USDA, the UAE imported $1.2 billion is US agricultural products in 2016, with the top imports being tree nuts, prepared foods, hay, fresh and processed fruits, and beef.
McKinney said that while regional protectionism issues “crop up from time to time,” they were not as pervasive as other regions.
“But even when that occurs, that’s why we’re here,” he said.
“More than half the job of winning that battle is showing up. So we’re here to show up. And if we hear problems, were going to pick up the phone, or get on a plane, or make a visit so we can address these and, frankly, we would want others to do that with us as well. This is not something we’re seeking as special treatment.”
McKinney said he samples a number of products at the show that he would be interested in seeing brought to the US.
Let a free market decide
“Spices. Coffees. All kinds of fruits and vegetables, for example,” he said.
“We have our own pulses and lentil crops but sometimes in the off-season they’re produced in other parts of the world and even if it’s the same product made at the same time, we’ve always believed that let's let a free market determine who gets the sale and who doesn’t.”
He said his primary reason for his attendance at Gulfood was his knowledge of the industry.
“I’ve lived this,” he said. “I can tell them we do believe it’s a two-way street. This is not a ‘we-win, you-lose’ [situation] at all. It is a two-way street and that is the way the US, I believe, has always behaved.”
McKinney said another reason for his attendance was to support US companies, and said that the US contingent was “excited” about doing business in the region.
“I have yet to see any other show I’ve been to have the diversity and frankly the buying and selling activity,” he said.
“This show in particular [has] a lot of activity and I mean buying and selling… people are writing orders or are going to write orders and ultimately that’s why you do these things,” he said.