Washington Week Ahead: Heat on Canada as U.S. tries to wrap up TPP talks

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 26, 2015 - With a series of agricultural issues still hanging, the Pacific Rim trade negotiations heat up in Hawaii this week as U.S. negotiators try up to wrap up a deal that they can send to Congress for approval.

Canada has yet to make key concessions on its barriers to U.S. dairy and poultry products, while Australia is making a renewed push to get the United States to increase its sugar imports.

The Senate and House, meanwhile, need to agree on an extension of highway funding this week.The existing authorization is set to expire on Friday. The Senate is pushing for a long-term extension, but House Republicans are insisting on a short-term patch that would allow them to tie a longer-term deal in December to a tax bill that would include an extension of popular tax breaks, including Section 179 expensing allowance.

This is the last week the House is in action before its August recess, The Senate in in session for two more weeks, and there are several key agricultural issues still unfinished in the Senate- the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law for meat and reauthorization of school nutrition standards and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There has been little sign of progress on any of them.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is pushing to repeal COOL before the recess, arguing that the World Trade Organization will soon authorize Canada and Mexico to retaliate against U.S. exports over the law. The House has already passed a repeal measure. But the Agriculture committee's ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, tells Agri-Pulse she has the votes to blocks the COOL repeal Roberts is pushing.

Avian influenza continues to dominate the attention of the poultry industry. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will give the opening remarks at a two-day industry meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, this week. The sessions will delve into the details of this spring's outbreak and into what lessons can be learned about biosecurity and other issues.

A House Agriculture subcommittee will cover some of the same ground at a hearing Thursdaythat will focus on the state and federal response to the outbreak. USDA's chief veterinary office, John Clifford, and Minnesota's state veterinarian are expected to testify.

Lets Talk Food

The industry is bracing for a second outbreak this fall - USDA is gearing up for a worst-case scenario of as many as 500 incidents - and is split over whether birds should be inoculated against the virus even if a vaccine is available by then. Use of the vaccine could have trade implications.

Key senators issue threat to Canada on trade deal

The Obama administration is under pressure to wrap up the Trans-Pacific Partnershipso it can be submitted to Congress in time to keep it from getting entangled in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But heading into this week's round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Maui, there has been no sign of progress with Canada on reducing its barriers to dairy and poultry products. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters last week that there were “very significant issues involving a number of countries” heading into this week's round and that “Canada is certainly one of them.”

In a letter on Friday, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Ron Wyden of Oregon, warned Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer that Canadian concessions were critical to including Canada in the final TPP deal. Congressional support “for a final TPP agreement that includes Canada is contingent on Canada's ability to meet the TPP's high standards,” the senators wrote.

Canadians have been arguing that there's no reason to reduce their supply controls for dairy and poultry products when the United States continues to protect its sugar producers in the same way.

The Australian Sugar Industry Alliance, with backing from the Texas-based Imperial Sugar Co., is pushing for last-minute concessions from the United States on its import quotas. Imperial, a subsidiary of Louis Dreyfus Commodities, argues that allowing more sugar imports would save American jobs. American sugar producers have been urging U.S. negotiators to resist Australia's demands.

Senators at impasse on ‘Product of the U.S.' definition

Roberts last week filed an amendment to the highway bill to repeal COOL, but Stabenow says she's got a majority of both the committee and of the full Senate behind her alternative, which would convert mandatory COOL to a voluntarylabeling program and maintain the requirement that meat labeled as a “Product of the U.S.” be from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

Keeping that definition, which excludes all imported livestock, continues to be a non-starter for U.S. packers as well as for Canada and Mexico.

So how does the impasse end? “Good question,” Roberts said on Friday.

Stabenow doesn't see the issue getting resolved before the recess. “It would be ideal but it has to be done in a reasonable way where consumers, producers and processors have an option of a ‘Product of the U.S.' label that has integrity,” she said.

Roberts also has been trying to work out an agreement with Stabenow on reauthorization bills for child nutrition standards - the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expires Sept. 30 - and the CFTC.

Roberts wanted to mark up bills before the August recess, but Stabenow says there are still several unresolved issues on both bills, including the GOP's insistence on using the CFTC bill to require the agency to start analyzing the costs and benefits for all proposed regulations.

Energy bill starts to move in Senate

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday will considera major, bipartisan energy bill this week. The Energy Policy Modernization Act,includes provisions aimed at promoting energy efficiency, modernizing the electrical grid, and developing renewable power,

The bill also would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, adding spending set-asides for recreation purposes and requiring federal officials to consider conservation easements. 

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

 

Monday, July 27

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and agricultural negotiator Darci Vetter are in Maui through Friday for the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

U.S. Grains Council 55th Annual Board of Delegates Meeting, Montreal, July 27 - 29.

10:30 a.m. - Representatives of the ethanol industry coalition Fuels America deliver 200,000 comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on the Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA headquarters.

2 p.m. - Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on Kazakhstan's accession to the World Trade Organization, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW.

4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.


Tuesday, July 28

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at poultry industry conference headlined “Avian Influenza Outbreak, Lessons Learned” in Des Moines, Iowa

10 a.m. - House Financial Services Committee hearing on the Dodd-Frank law, 2128 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on rural health care disparities under Medicare, 1100 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Banking Committee hearing on lifting the crude oil export ban, 538 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting to consider the Energy Policy Modernization Act, 366 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on law enforcement policies and tactics in the Interior Department and Forest Service, 1324 Longworth.

Wednesday, July 29

Avian flu conference continues in Des Moines.

9 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on alleged EPA mismanagement, 2154 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Dodd-Frank law, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on enforcement of consultation under the Endangered Species Act, 1324 Longworth.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on wireless broadband, 253 Russell.

3:30 p.m. - CSIS forum on “China's New Normal: An Economic Progress Report,” 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW.

Thursday, July 30

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the federal and state response to the avian flu outbreak, 1300 Longworth.

Friday, July 31

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