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A Conversation with USDA Leader Jonathan Cordone

Posted by Helena Rudoff, USDA Office of Communications in Trade
Jul 28, 2016
Jonathan Cordone, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services
Jonathan Cordone, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, has key responsibilities for USDA’s international activities for trade policy, export assistance, food aid, international economic development and more.

As the Deputy Under Secretary of Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS), Jonathan Cordone leads the Department's international activities, including key responsibilities for trade policy and export assistance, as well as food aid, international economic development, and trade capacity building. With more than 15 years of public service, Cordone has served as the General Counsel and Chief Counsel of key congressional committees with responsibilities for commerce and international trade, the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and most recently as USDA's second highest ranking attorney.

I manage USDA’s international portfolio, so I work on trade every day. I have the opportunity to work with some amazing professionals, both here in Washington and in our 93 overseas offices. Our international presence is a unique asset for USDA: people working around the world exclusively on behalf of American producers, American agriculture, and American food.” – Jonathan Cordone

Your background is more focused on law, trade and commerce. Would you explain your passion for agriculture?

I love working with agriculture! First, there is something so fundamental about food that everyone, everywhere can relate to. Although there are cultural differences in how and what people eat, food remains a basic need for everyone. Second, agriculture and trade go hand-in-hand. As major exporters, American agriculture is generally supportive of expanding trade.  Having their enthusiastic backing for the work we do certainly helps keep me motivated.

Why should the average American consumer who feels as though they have absolutely no connection to agriculture care about trade?

The bottom line is that we need to do a better job explaining how important trade is to American agriculture and how that, in turn, affects people’s daily lives. There’s a sign we had in the Senate that said, ‘No Farms, No Food’. That’s how we began this conversation – agriculture is fundamental to a need that everyone shares whether they recognize it or not.  And trade is a key driver of our agricultural economy.  There is a link there, and we need to tell that story in ways that are more relatable for a typical American.  There’s also a big-picture humanitarian component to agricultural trade. The world needs to find smart, sustainable ways to produce our food and also reduce food waste.  It’s all interconnected.  For example, we can’t afford to lose food at the port just because there’s a trade restriction in place.

Describe a particular foreign community where the direct and indirect impacts of trade resonate with you.

I just got back from Colombia. It was an amazing time to be there because they had just announced a historic cease-fire agreement between the government and rebel fighters. One of the things the Colombians are focused on doing in this new era of peace is supporting their rural communities. A lot of rural communities were either sucked into growing coca – which is used in producing cocaine – or ravaged by the conflicts. Colombia is going to be challenged with how to develop more viable rural economies, and it’s a good example of where we could see mutually beneficial trade and capacity building at work. How can we support these communities in ceasing coca production and ensure sustainable development into the future? We are actively working to make sure that these communities benefit from trade with the U.S. and have the necessary tools to accomplish this, and we’re seeing a difference already.

What does the future of agriculture trade look like?

As exports and international trade become increasingly important to our agricultural economy, opening new markets, setting global rules, and enforcing our rights will all become increasingly important.  And when I talk about enforcing our rights, I don’t just mean taking formal legal actions.  I also mean engaging with other countries, sorting through misunderstandings, finding mutually agreeable paths forward, and yes, when necessary, taking legal actions too.  These are all things USDA currently does really well, but they are also things that we’ll need to do increasingly better heading into the future.

Category/Topic: Trade