United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Arkansas Wednesday to sign an agreement between state and federal forestry partners and to speak with local leaders in politics and agriculture.
Joined by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Republican U.S. Reps. French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Rick Crawford, Perdue signed a Shared Stewardship agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the state’s Department of Agriculture and Game and Fish Commission.
Hutchinson described the agreement as the start of a greater partnership between agencies.
"Often times in history [The U.S. Forest Service has] acted in isolation in handling our forest property. And so this… allows us to have a formal line of communication when it comes to federal forestry property and its management and its investment of resources," Hutchinson said.
Perdue was largely praised by growers and industry figures present for the signing at the state Agriculture Department headquarters in Little Rock, mainly for the USDA's efforts to mitigate losses suffered by growers amid falling commodity prices and ongoing trade escalations with China.
Perdue said the tariff war is necessary to strive for a more equal playing field on a global scale and that the department's focus is on cultivating numerous smaller countries as trading partners, instead of relying on larger countries like China.
"We'll have good news being announced definitively… about Japan," Perdue said. "We've had other, smaller trade announcements with Korea and other areas, but we're looking all the time."
Perdue said he expects upcoming trade agreements with Japan and the United Kingdom to have a positive outcome on Arkansas producers, saying ongoing Brexit negotiations could mean an opening of the British market to Arkansas agricultural exports like rice.
"We are having talks with them already about the potential of a break with the E.U., and that's a fairly delicate situation right now because their customer base is there in Europe," Perdue said. "Europe unfortunately has some protectionist policies there that have been almost as bad as China in many regards."
Perdue also spoke about ongoing aid to farmers as well as flood protection and relief efforts in the state. When asked about how long farmers could expect to wait before easing trade tensions with China, Perdue said there's no firm end in sight.
"Farmers will wait as long as it takes and we'll find other markets, frankly. If China decides they will not and do not want to reform their practices regarding free and fair and reciprocal trade, our farmers will find someplace else to go sell their product."