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ADM upbeat on Trump, sees 'no imminent trade war' with Mexico

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Archer Daniels Midland batted away concerns over the threat Donald Trump, the new US president, to agriculture, downplaying the chances of a trade war with Mexico, while terming "very positive" proposed tax reforms.

Juan Luciano, ADM's Argentine-born chief executive, termed as "premature" the "speculation" on what President Trump's administration may bring, after early controversy over immigration curbs and verbal salvos aimed at some major trade partners, including Mexico, a huge importer of US agricultural commodities.

It was a "big leap" to believe that Mr Trump's pledge to renegotiate Nafta, the Canada-Mexico-US trade deal implemented in 1994 would lead to "closing the borders", Mr Luciano said.

'No imminent trade war'

"I spend time in Washington. I spend time in Mexico," he told investors.

While the trade deal "has served the agricultural industry well for the last 20 years… I would argue that both teams will recognise that, after 20 years, there is room for improving Nafta.

"We don't think that an imminent trade war is there."

Indeed, the Trump administration was not poised to overlook agriculture, in which the US is a big exporter, shipments which many commentators see as vulnerable if the president pursues ambitions to curb the country's imports.

After "careful" scrutiny of "administration statements… we are optimistic that, in the end, the President Trump and his senior advisers… will recognise that trading agricultural commodities has tremendous benefit for farmers and other businesses in the Heartland states.

"When we are looking at employment and all that, we [US agriculture] are a big part of that."

'Undeniable positives'

Overall, Mr Luciano said that ADM – which with Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus is one of the "ABCD" group of leading agricultural traders – was "cautiously optimistic given their priorities that the government has delineated in the early days".

He termed "undeniable positives" some of Mr Trump's broader aims, such as boosting infrastructure spending and cutting corporate taxes.

Ray Young, the ADM finance director, told investors that "bringing our statutory tax rates from a 35% level to either the 15% level that Mr Trump has talked about, or the 20% level that the Republican blueprint is talking about, is very, very positive.

"And then they have also talked about a border adjustment tax, which, for agricultural exporters like ADM, that would be a positive too for us."

Ethanol rethink

While Mr Trump's administration may scrap the US biodiesel tax credit, worth some $50m a year to ADM, the potential for a review of levies had opened up the potential for fresh options for the group's ethanol dry mills, for which a sale process so far has failed to attract an offer deemed acceptable.

"We are still talking with different parties regarding these ethanol assets. We are also looking at some different structures," Mr Young said.

"Frankly, as we think about tax reform coming in the US, it does actually open up some different considerations.

"We've been looking at effectively at some tax restructures and if there's tax reform and if the corporate tax rate does come down, it does open up the avenue for us to look at some other mechanisms in order to look towards monetising these assets."

By Mike Verdin

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