The Trump administration is looking this week to increase the heat on Congress to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement while making progress with China in the wake of the recent meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan a conference call with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and perhaps others this week, a U.S. official told Agri-Pulse. As of this weekend, the time and day for the call hadn’t been scheduled.
During the Japan meeting, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Trump and Xi agreed to restart stalled talks to end the trade war. Trump delayed imposing $300 billion in new tariffs on Chinese exports, including agricultural pesticides, and Xi agreed China would begin buying more U.S. ag commodities. Last week, the first-ever Chinese purchase of U.S. rice was announced, and the California company making the sale expects additional purchases.
No one is more eager to see some new progress in the talks than U.S. farm groups. It was a year ago Saturday that China imposed 25% retaliatory tariffs on soybeans and other U.S. commodities.
“Before the trade war, U.S. soybean farmers saw prices well over $10 per bushel, but now that number has been in the 8-dollar range way too often,” said Davie Stephens, a grower from Clinton, Ky., who is president of American Soybean Association.
“Dealing with weather, weeds, pests and normal markets is tough enough for farmers, but being caught in the middle of a trade war for an entire year is a whole different level. Prices are lower and anxiety is definitely higher for those of us trying to keep our farms going.”
Congress returns from its long July 4 recess this week, and administration officials will continue putting pressure on House Democrats to get behind the USMCA, which has already been approved in Mexico.
Vice President Mike Pence will head to California’s Central Valley on Wednesday for two stops, including one to an almond farm south of Fresno. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently made a two-day swing through key agricultural areas of the state. Both of Pence's stops are in the congressional district that Democrat TJ Cox won in 2018.
House Democrats are demanding that the administration address concerns that they have with the trade pact, including enforcement of labor and environmental standards and potential restrictions on the U.S. government’s ability to drive down pharmaceutical prices.
The National Farmers Union has provided some political cover to Democrats by sending a letter to House leadership supporting their concerns with the agreement.
"Provisions that limit the actions Congress can take to reduce prescription drug prices must be rectified to allow for future reductions in health care costs,” the NFU letter said. “Labor, environment, and enforcement standards must be strengthened to help to keep jobs in rural communities.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers will put some focus on infrastructure issues this week.
The Waterways Council, a coalition of industry groups that represents shippers who use the Mississippi River and other waterways, will be represented at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act. The group will be asking lawmakers to consider increasing the amount of general funds that go toward inland waterways projects, versus the share that comes out of the inland waterways trust fund.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on surface transportation needs the same day, and on Thursday a House Agriculture subcommittee will have a hearing on rural broadband.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, July 8
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, July 9
Wednesday, July 10
10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, “Water Resources Development Acts: Status of Implementation And Assessing Future Needs,” 2167 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on surface transportation, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, July 11
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on rural broadband, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the management of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, H-140 Capitol.
Friday, July 12
Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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