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Dorr: The Impact of the 2012 Election on Regulatory Reform and International Trade

December 13, 2012

 

Farm Journal Forum

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Washington, D.C.

 

Tom DorrBy Thomas C. Dorr, president of Thomas C. Dorr & Associates, a firm that specializes in the development of food and agricultural trade, both domestic and international, with a specific focus on China

 

Thanks for the kind introduction. The Forum really gained traction under the leadership of Sonja Hillgren and now has become an ag policy holiday legacy in D.C. I’ve attended a number of them over the years, mostly as an observer trying to gain knowledge. It’s a privilege and honor to join you on this side of the podium, but I must warn you I insisted they place me before lunch rather than after lest I risk putting you to sleep.

I’ve been asked to speak on the impact of the election on regulatory reform and trade. Let me begin by saying that I don’t have a crystal ball.

That said, the challenges in both these areas are primarily political, not technical. In both areas, at the level of high platitude, it is easy to say the right thing. But the devil is in the details... navigating the maze of cross- agendas, hidden agendas, interest group pressures and interest group vetoes, and, sometimes, the need to balance short-term costs with long-term benefits. A lot of political leaders talk the talk. They don’t necessarily walk the walk.

At a very high level of abstraction, there IS a common denominator to the political struggles over regulatory reform and trade. This is simply the tension between those who trust the capacity of free people, acting voluntarily through free markets, to make generally good decisions...versus those who believe deeply, as a reflexive default option, that free choice and free markets are untrustworthy, and that expert guidance and control through regulation is a better approach.

It would be an overstatement to reduce that tension to an absolute either-or position on either side. Free marketers generally acknowledge a role for regulatory safeguards, and regulators more often than not pay lip service to markets. Again, the devil is in the details, hidden somewhere in the shades of gray.

So: what can one say about the election? Clearly, whatever else was at stake … and a lot was … this election was not fought out at the national level on issues of agricultural or trade policy. There were scattered congressional districts where ag issues played big, but they were few and far between. So I am not sure that we saw a mandate emerging on either side of ag issues.

And frankly, with Democrats retaining the White House and the Senate, and Republicans retaining the House of Representatives, the same political gridlock that existed on November 5 still exists today.

As you have probably noticed, as we hurtle towards the fiscal cliff … but let’s not drift off topic.

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