ORLANDO, FLA. — Ongoing and upcoming trade negotiations will seek to open new markets for U.S. agriculture, but such talks also put agricultural trade at risk, said Jason Hafemeister, trade counsel to the secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Trade balances are a motivation in the overall trade issue, Mr. Hafemeister said at the opening session of the International Sweetener Colloquium on Feb. 12.

Despite significant declines in crude oil imports in recent years, the trade deficit has not declined, Mr. Hafemeister said, suggesting that as long as the United States is “awash” in foreign currencies, in part due to selling of government bonds to finance debt, “we will have a trade deficit.”

In contrast, U.S. agriculture runs at a trade surplus and needs foreign markets, he said, noting that trade talks will seek to open more markets and increase agricultural trade. In addition, jobs in agricultural manufacturing, which often are in rural areas, need to be protected, he said.

“For agriculture, trade agreements have been good,” he said, “but we see substantial opportunity going forward. An aggressive trade agenda is critical for agriculture.”  

He noted Asia particularly, and singled out China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam as countries that had significant potential to increase imports of U.S. agricultural goods.

At the same time, “there is also some vulnerability if things go wrong,” Mr. Hafemeister said concerning the gains for agriculture that have resulted from trade agreements.

He cited high tariffs in many countries as barriers to agricultural trade, although he said it was “hard to get at those through trade agreements.”

He noted manufacturing, specifically the automobile sector, as a key negotiating point in reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement, adding that “deadlines likely will be missed” in redoing NAFTA. Concerns for agriculture in NAFTA included “getting into Canada” and modernizing the agreement, he said.