Seed World

Trump Out, Biden In: How the Year Began

In the first instalment of our Top 10 Stories of the Year, we look back on the inauguration of Joe Biden as U.S. president.

After four years of Donald Trump, will a change in who occupies the Oval Office have a major effect on the seed industry? That was the question in January when Joe Biden was inaugurated as U.S. president.

When it comes down to it, one of the biggest questions surrounding a Biden administration is Biden’s stance on trade, said Mary Kay Thatcher, senior lead of Syngenta’s federal government relations wing.

“I think trade will change drastically. I believe Biden will be very pro-trade, but I don’t think trade will be at the top of his priority list. Instead, he might hit on domestic issues, be it fixing or trying to fix COVID or the stimulus bill.”

Thatcher noted that in particular, a Biden administration might mean going back to more traditional trade deals.

“Before President Trump, we always did trade in this country by engaging our friends. Once we had a group together, you’d then move somewhere like China or Russia or wherever to see if we could seek some changes.”

Michelle Klieger, president of Stratagerm Consulting, noted that this was common, especially under the Bush and Obama years.

“There were a lot of bilateral talks set up between different parts of the U.S. and Chinese governments,” Klieger said. “Debatably, did they cause structural changes in the U.S.-China relationship? Maybe. But probably not as much as people hoped.”

She added that all-in-all, that means when new presidents came into office, China was already on their toes, expecting the U.S. to make trade a priority.

“China knew that this big trade talk was coming from one of these committees or there was going to be a high-level visit, and suddenly, there would be a flurry of activity on the Chinese side,” Klieger said. “We would see biotech approvals and we’d see other things that the U.S. had been pushing for. It was almost like, ‘We’re going to do this big, showy thing,’ and China would give a few things we wanted. But it didn’t structurally change the trade process.”
Fast-forward to May, Thatcher still wasn’t quite sure how those drastic changes are going to play out.

“I think it would be too early to say they’ve changed drastically, and to be honest with you, if you would have asked me six months ago, I probably would have expected something major to happen by now,” she said.

Still, she said, there are some telling signs that it might take a little time to see any dramatic developments in the world of trade with the Biden administration at the helm.

“The biggest holdback is we just don’t have very many political appointees yet, and that seems odd to me, when you have a Democratic administration and a Democratic senate that is going to confirm these people. You would think it would have happened by now, but if you actually look at the charts, Biden is much slower overall at filling those seats than probably the last four or five presidents have been.”

—with files from Alex Martin

Check out our coverage and stay tuned for more Top Stories of 2021:

Optimism Abounds as Biden Admin’s Trade Policies Take Shape

What will the Impact of a Biden Administration be?