Sounding a common complaint, Sen. Boozman offered, and then withdrew, several amendments targeting “heavy-handed regulations that have a negative impact on variety, quality, availability and affordability of food for the American family. Excessive regulation, duplicative permit requirements — all of these things are so burdensome.”

He proposed the Secretary of Agriculture be provided the ability to “determine whether any proposed major regulation would have a negative effect on access to affordable food. If the secretary makes such a determination an expedited congressional review would take place.”

Pointing to a law already on the books, trade with Cuba was addressed by Montana Sen. Max Baucus. Baucus pulled few punches in calling out trade opponents, who have thwarted “Congressional intent” through onerous regulations regarding how shipments to the island nation are paid for. “Let’s not forget that the United States is one of the few countries that don’t trade with Cuba. And we’re losing out. … Frankly, this has to do with presidential politics in Florida and I think it’s wrong.”

A study to consider a reorganization of the USDA’s trade function was advocated by Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, a former Secretary of Agriculture. “Trade is absolutely critical to American agriculture. The U.S. exported $136 billion last year. … One of every three acres of production goes into the foreign marketplace. Increasing (overseas) populations, affluence and urbanization will require our farmers to grow more efficiently and put tremendous pressure on our trade functions…

“Thus it’s increasingly important that USDA ensure that our trade is open and based on science.” As former head of the USDA “I know well the importance of the department responding quickly and aggressively to … non-tariff trade barriers. If there was a surprise at the USDA in my time as secretary it was how much time I devoted to trade issues.”

As part of the trade study, Johanns said “the secretary may include a recommendation for the establishment of an under-secretary for trade in foreign agricultural affairs.”

Baucus agreed with the study proposal. “The United States does not spend enough time thinking about trade. … We’re missing the boat when we don’t more aggressively market our products, spend more time working on trade issues.”