They also described the “revolving door” between the agricultural industry and the US government. “The industry loves it if you come with a Rolodex of government contacts that you can call on any issue,” they said.
Agricultural trade is an even more obscure world because of the high level of expertise required. Phil Levy, a former trade official in the George W. Bush administration, admits he found negotiations on agriculture “almost completely impenetrable”.
Lobby groups’ focus isn’t squarely on trade officials, though, as any trade bill must ultimately pass through Congress. Wendy Cutler, of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former acting deputy US trade representative, says agricultural groups “rely on exports more than other sector so they put a lot of resources into trying to sell a trade agreement to Congress. As a result, negotiators always want to make sure that there is a robust agriculture outcome in any trade agreement”.
Each state has two senators, so sparsely populated larger states with agriculture-dominated economies are over-represented in the upper chamber. One example is Iowa, whose senator Chuck Grassley is chairman of the Senate financial committee. Levy describes him as “very well attuned to the interests of the agricultural community”. If a congressman proves unmalleable, Levy recalls, “people lay down expressions of concern to signal what will happen later. Sometimes that’s to say, ‘we’ll withhold support unless you do everything we want’”.
Levy notes that a Biden administration could be more susceptible to pressure from the farm lobby because as a former senator, he “will be acutely aware of what it takes to get a bill through”. Vetter agrees not much would change under her former boss’s deputy: “I would still imagine a strong science-based approach to regulation of US agricultural products.