A Wilkes County commissioner was present at the White House Monday as an invited guest when President Donald Trump signed a new U.S.-Japan trade agreement.
Commissioner Eddie Settle joined N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in representing North Carolina at the event. Both are Republicans and Forest has announced his candidacy for governor in 2020.
Settle chairs the N.C. Association of County Commissioners’ Agricultural Steering Committee, but said he believes he was invited due to a conversation he had with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue when he and two other Wilkes commissioners (Chairman Keith Elmore and Brian Minton) were in Washington, D.C., about two months ago for an inter-governmental affairs event focused on trade and infrastructure.
Settle said he asked Perdue then how trade negotiations were addressing the economic distress of small farmers. “I told him we (small farmers) are dying,” said Settle, who has about 150 head of beef cattle near where he lives on Carter Mill Road in eastern Wilkes. Settle said he was referencing the impact of the U.S.-China trade war and other factors.
Settle said that on Oct. 4, he received a call from the president of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners saying he was highly recommended for attending Trump’s ceremonial signing of the new trade agreement with Japan. The agreement largely addresses agricultural trade.
Settle drove to Washington Sunday to attend the 3 p.m. Monday event, where Trump introduced him, Forest and handful of other people out of a crowd of people gathered in a room of the West Wing of the White House.
Trump called the new trade deal “a game changer for our farmers and our ranchers.”
Settle was interviewed by reporters from NBC, Fox and Spectrum about agricultural issues afterwards and returned to Wilkes that evening.
Settle, who raises beef cattle, said the new trade agreement will have a positive impact on North Carolina. Of particular interest in Wilkes County, the agreement calls for Japan to eliminate tariffs in stages on frozen poultry and reduce tariffs on fresh and frozen beef.
Japanese tariffs on beef will drop from 38.5 percent currently to 9% by 2033, on the same schedule as TPP competitors Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
U.S. butter, skim milk powder, evaporated milk and some grains would have fared better under the TPP. Cheese, the largest U.S. dairy export to Japan, will see elimination of Japan’s tariffs of up to 40% over 15 years, as it would have done under TPP.
Also under the deal:
• Barley has improved access to Japan through a restoration of U.S-specific quotas and a 45% reduction in Japan’s mark-up on imports. This matches TPP competitors.
• Tariffs and quotas on U.S. rice imported to Japan set in the early 1990s are unchanged.
• Rules prohibiting taxation of digital downloads and data localization requirements are stronger than under TPP. It protects against forced disclosure of proprietary computer source code and algorithms, demands that China frequently makes of U.S. firms.
• Japan’s zero duty on U.S. corn for animal feed is unchanged, but it includes a quota eliminating a 3% duty on sweet and other types of corn.
• The quota on U.S. wheat sold to Japan increases to 150,000 metric tons over six years. It reduces Japan’s markup for wheat imports by 45% matching TPP competitors.
• Japan eliminates a 10% duty on imports of certain U.S. ethanol in 10 years, affecting about $11 million worth of imports.
The agreement doesn’t address autos and auto parts from Japan and aircraft, liquefied propane gas and semiconductor manufacturing equipment from the U.S, which are the biggest items financially in bilateral trade with Japan. These were left out for a later phase of negotiations.