With President Donald Trump having dropped the threat of expanded tariffs for now, U.S. and Chinese negotiators continue work on details of an agreement that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping could potentially seal later this month in Florida.  

“I’m feeling more optimistic,” Ted McKinney, USDA’s undersecretary for trade, said this weekend in an interview with Agri-Pulse in Orlando, Fla., on the sidelines of Commodity Classic, the annual meeting of grain and soybean producers, along with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

The negotiations were carried out by long distance last week as officials in the two governments worked to iron out details of issues to which the main negotiators had broadly agreed to, said McKinney said. 

“We’re sustaining the discussion. Right now it’s down into the words, the phrases, of what can be accepted, what can’t,” McKinney said. “If it can’t, it’s elevated up for others. It’s the normal type of negotiations. We’re hard it, both sides.”

He also expressed confidence that the deal will include some enforcement mechanisms that the Trump administration is seeking. “Enforcement in some form will be in there, and I think it will be robust,” he said.

He cautioned, however: “We must remind our friends in ag: You never know 'til it’s done and its implemented.” 

Last Friday was the deadline that Trump had previously given the Chinese for reaching an agreement, but he put off his threat of new tariffs because of the progress the face-to-face negotiations had made. On Friday evening, Trump took to Twitter to request that China drop all of its tariffs on U.S. agriculture commodities, “based on the fact that we are moving along nicely with Trade discussions.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday for a series of events intended to promote the economic importance of agriculture and the State Department’s role in promoting U.S. exports. 

During his stay in Iowa, Pompeo will speak to FFA members at a suburban high school, tour a Corteva Agriscience research facility, and then speak to farmers and agribusiness leaders at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines. 

Back in Washington, House Democrats are intensifying their pressure on President Trump with multiple investigations while bringing to the floor a bill, the For the People Act (H.R. 1), that would remove restrictions to voter registration, encourage early voting, and overhaul the redistricting process. 

Democrats, however, also are struggling to remain united as progressives, led by first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, demand that moderates fall in line with a more liberal agenda. The ideological struggle is providing an early test of the strength of the expanded, 27-member Blue Dog Coalition.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, is continuing her battle against Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s proposed rule that it would make it more difficult for states to get waivers from the work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

She and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are circulating a letter opposing the rule, and 14 other Democrats and Maine independent Angus King had co-signed the letter as of Thursday. Anti-hunger activists are working to get additional senators to endorse the letter. 

Perdue clashed with Democrats over the rule at back to back hearings last week in the House and Senate Agriculture committees. 

Also this week, USDA’s Economic Research Service will release its updated farm income forecast on Wednesday. In November, ERS estimated that net farm income dropped by more than 12 percent to $66.3 billion in 2018.

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

Monday, March 4

National Farmers Union annual meeting, through Tuesday, Bellevue, Wash.

2 p.m. — Farm Foundation forum, “U.S. and Canadian Perspectives on Trans-Pacific Trade,” National Press Club. 

Tuesday, March 5

10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the electricity sector and climate change, 366 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. — Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, “Does America Have a Monopoly Problem?: Examining Concentration and Competition in the US Economy,” 226 Dirksen.

Wednesday, March 6

10 a.m. — House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the risks of PFAS chemicals, 2154 Rayburn.

10 a.m. — Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the state of the U.S. maritime industry, 216 Hart. 

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “The Economic Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investment and Accelerated Project Delivery,” 406 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. — House Ways and Means Committee hearing, “Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Need for Immediate Action,” 1100 Longworth.

11 a.m. — USDA releases Farm Income Forecast. 

Thursday, March 7

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.  

10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources holds roundtable on public lands issues in the West, 366 Dirksen.

Friday, March 8

Noon — USDA releases monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production report. 

Bill Tomson contributed to this report. 

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