The U.S.-China trade negotiations return to Washington this week amid signs of progress, while Senate Republicans seek to move forward with a long-stalled package of disaster aid eagerly awaited by a growing list of farmers.
Beijing’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported Friday that U.S. and Chinese negotiators were studying the text of a possible final agreement after talks last week that involved U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The White House said in a statement that the two sides “continued to make progress during candid and constructive discussions on the negotiations and important next steps. The United States looks forward to the meetings planned with Vice Premier Liu He and the Chinese delegation in Washington.”
In a tweet, Mnuchin described the negotiations as “constructive.”
The negotiations were scheduled to resume on Wednesday, and the round is expected to include the administration’s agricultural trade advisers, including Ted McKinney, USDA’s undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. They did not travel to Beijing for last week’s round.
The Senate, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote Monday evening to limit debate on supplemental appropriations bill proposed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
The draft would authorize $3 billion in agricultural disaster assistance, but the legislation doesn’t include compensation for farmers whose stored corn and soybeans were destroyed by this month’s flooding along the Missouri River.
A disaster bill that passed the House in January was designed only to cover 2018 losses, primarily from hurricanes in the Southeast and wildfires in California. The Senate draft largely follows the House provisions on agricultural aid but was updated to include 2019 losses.
The issue has been stalled for weeks because of a dispute between the White House and congressional Democrats over the way the administration is handling Puerto Rico’s recovery from hurricanes. Now, the bill has become enmeshed in a broader political messaging effort by Democrats on health care. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced last week that Democrats would seek to tack on a provision preventing the Justice Department from intervening in a lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care At.
Also this week, farm groups will be closely watching a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Wednesday for clues as to how serious House Democrats are about moving a bill to address agricultural labor needs. The subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has indicated that she wants to pass a standalone ag labor bill that would provide a path to legal status for existing workers who are in the country illegally as well as to reform H-2A.
The legislation would incorporate a bill she introduced in January to allow existing, undocumented workers to earn a “blue card” so that they can stay in the country illegally.
A representative of a farm group following the issue closely said that Wednesday’s hearing is apparently intended to persuade Lofgren’s fellow Democrats of the need to liberalize or replace the H-2A visa program, which is limited to seasonal labor. “Her members on the left obviously see the need for the blue card piece, but she probably needs to make the case for the guestworker reforms,” the official said.
The witnesses are expected to include representatives of Western Growers, United Farm Workers and dairy producers, among others.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, April 1
Tuesday, April 2
10 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, 2359 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, “The State of Western Water Infrastructure and Innovation,” 1324 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Small Business Subcommittee hearing on agriculture and workers, 2360 Rayburn.
10:30 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the rural economy, 2362 Rayburn.
Wednesday, April 3
9 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on proposed rule on able-bodied adults without dependents who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1300 Longworth.
9 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, 2362-A Rayburn.
9 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency, 124 Dirksen.
9 a.m. - Mansfield Foundation forum, “The Future of U.S. - Japan Trade,” Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
Noon - House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, “Securing the future of American Agriculture,” 2141 Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, 2358-C Rayburn.
Thursday, April 4
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
9 a.m. - House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing, “ Generation Climate: Young Leaders Urge Climate Action Now,” location TBD.
9:30 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, 2008 Rayburn.
Friday, April 5
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