Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, the most recent addition to the list of President-elect Donald Trump’s potential secretary of agriculture choices, just returned from a trade mission to China in November.
Otter’s staff confirmed that the Republican governor and former U.S. congressman is being vetted by Trump’s transition team, the News-Times reported Wednesday. Trump’s focus on making good trade deals may be why he’s considering Otter. Idaho business leaders praised Otter’s most recent trip to China as a positive move to improve the state’s trade relationship with the country.
“Personal relationships are an essential part of doing business in the Chinese market,” Otter said when he returned in mid-November. “We identified some excellent opportunities, and I look forward to seeing their future successes.”
Otter has also led multiple trade missions during his time as governor, taking Idaho business owners to Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Trade is incredibly important to agriculture, as “roughly a third of agriculture produced [in the U.S.] is destined for export, at least at the macro level,” Dale Moore, director of policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
Trump’s stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed deal intended to open up trade between the U.S. and 11 other countries with major ports in the Pacific Ocean, has caused some concern among farm policy groups. They argue that if the U.S. does not take advantage of opportunities to sell to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, China would gain those relationships.
“There’s a concern that without [the TPP], China could step into that breach and take over that platform,” Moore said. “There’s a lot more that we were gaining than we were losing” in the proposed trade deal.
Otter has been elected to three terms and has served as governor since 2006. He was a U.S. representative for Idaho from 2001 to 2007, and before that was lieutenant governor of his state from 1987 to 2001.
Like the search for other cabinet secretaries, media have reported numerous top picks for agriculture secretary over the past few weeks. Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is said to be a potential pick for the post, though Trump’s agriculture advisors have balked at the idea of nominating a Democrat.
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