The Trump administration this week finalizes hefty steel and aluminum tariffs that have farm groups bracing from retaliatory trade actions, and the president also is pushing forward to address complaints by refiners about the cost of complying with federal biofuel mandates.
Some lawmakers cautioned that the tariff details to be released this week could be narrowly drawn enough to limit the potential for retaliation. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN Sunday that no countries would be excluded. Canada and the European Union already are threatening to slap tariffs on U.S. products. In the EU’s case, the list of potential targets includes bourbon and blue jeans.
U.S. farmers are especially worried that China will retaliate against U.S. soybeans and other commodities. Last week, more than two dozen farm and business groups sought to head off the tariffs that the remedies recommended by the Commerce Department were “overly broad.”
Trump, for his part, responded to the threat of retaliatory EU tariffs on Saturday by threatening on Twitter to impose new duties on European automobiles.
Campbell Soup Co. has been tangling with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over whether the tariffs would significantly increase the cost of its cans and soup. Ross says it wouldn’t.
Kelly Johnston, Campbell’s vice president for government relations, tweeted Sunday that Trump “greatly underestimates the profound backlash his trade war will bring to farmers and manufacturers. … Production agriculture is the tip of the spear in any trade war in response to the US.”
But Ross said Sunday on NBC's' Meet the Press that neither the tariffs nor any retaliatory actions would hurt the economy. "What we're talking about in terms of the economy is $9 billion of tariffs. That's all. That's a fraction of 1 percent of the whole economy. What the European Union has talked about is some $3 billion or so of potential retaliation. That's an even smaller fraction of 1 percent of the economy."
Meanwhile, biofuel producers are bracing to see how hard Trump keeps pushing for administrative actions that could bring down prices for Renewable Identification Numbers, the credits used to track compliance with ethanol and biodiesel mandates. Two meetings last week failed to yield a deal, but Trump indicated to industry leaders he wanted to have a third meeting as soon as this week to review economic studies of measures that could lower RIN prices, sources said.
Refiners were heartened that Trump wanted another meeting, while biofuel producers say they were encouraged by Trump’s interest in bringing down RIN prices by increasing consumption of E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and gasoline. The ethanol industry is asking EPA for a waiver from its Reid vapor pressure standard so that E15 can be sold year around.
“As the president continues to study this issue, we are confident that he will agree that year-round E15 sales are the true win-win,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
During the second meeting on Thursday, Trump floated the idea of a two-year cap on RIN prices, coupled with measures to increase consumption to higher ethanol blends. Biofuel producers immediately rejected the RIN cap. “They'd have to do that administratively over our dead bodies,” said one industry source. Refiners, meanwhile, have dismissed the idea that increased E15 consumption could reduce RIN prices sufficiently on its own.
In Congress, key senators are seeking to wrap up a deal to address complaints about the new Section 199A tax benefit for farmer cooperatives. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said late last week senators were seeking signoff from the affected industry sectors on language that address the disparity in how the 199A deduction benefits farmer cooperatives over other buyers of grain, milk and other commodities. Thune said the new provision would be retroactive.
The intent is to add the reworked 199A provision to an omnibus spending bill that Congress must pass by March 23.
“We cannot miss this deadline of the omnibus in getting this issue resolved,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. “The consequences to grain elevators across Kansas and across the country are already there.”
Also this week, school food directors are holding their annual legislative action conference and will lobbying lawmakers on several priorities, including the Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act, a bill that would make school breakfasts eligible for USDA commodities. The School Nutrition Association is asking the House Agriculture Committee to add the measure to the farm bill that the panel is expected to debate and vote on later this month.
Committee members Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill, have been leading the effort persuade their colleagues to include the breakfast provision.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, March 5
National Farmers Union annual convention, through Tuesday, Kansas City, Mo.
School Nutrition Association legislative action conference, through Tuesday, J.W. Marriott.
North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations continue, through Tuesday, Mexico City.
Tuesday, March 6
10 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers, 2154 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Small Business joint subcommittee hearing on “Disconnected: Rural Broadband and the Business Case for Small Carriers,” 2360 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan, 2167 Rayburn.
1 p.m. - The National Association of Counties press conference in support of iSecure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), Capitol House triangle.
Wednesday, March 7
10 a.m. - House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 2362-A Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on long-term highway and transit funding, 2167 Rayburn.
Thursday, March 8
Friday, March 9
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