President Donald Trump this week goes to India, where he is expected to press Prime Minister Narendra Modi on protectionist moves that may have played a role in scuttling plans to announce a bilateral trade agreement.
U.S. negotiators had been in talks with their Indian counterparts for months and have made progress on agriculture and other issues, and Trump raised the possibility that he could announce at least a partial trade deal along with his visit to India on Monday and Tuesday.
But the talks recently bogged down and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer didn’t make an expected trip to India ahead of Trump’s visit on Monday and Tuesday.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited recent tariff increases as a concern to the U.S.
“We want to address a bunch, a lot, of concerns, and we're not quite there yet,” the official said of the trade negotiations. “We will likely have discussion with the prime minister about these concerns and continue the discussion beyond this visit.”
Tree nuts, apples, dairy, ethanol, distiller’s grains, poultry, pulses and other U.S. commodities could be among the biggest beneficiaries of a deal with India, which has a population 1.3 billion.
Also this week, Friday is the deadline for landowners to apply for the Conservation Reserve Program under the first general signup in four years.
The administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Richard Fordyce, told Agri-Pulse he hopes to have landowners notified by the end of March as to whether their land has been accepted into the program. There will be no extension of the deadline, he said.
The signup is expected to be one of the largest ones in years. Some 22 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, but contracts on 5.2 million acres are scheduled to expire this September, and the 2018 farm bill raised the acreage cap is being raised to 24.5 million for fiscal 2021.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a sweeping plan to streamline the environmental review process for federal grazing permits and projects such as pipelines.
Among other things, the proposal released in January by the White House Council on Environmental Quality proposal would simplify the definition of environmental effects that agencies consider in evaluating the impact of a project or permit.
Conservation groups say that eliminating specific consideration of “cumulative effects,” as the proposal would do, would end consideration of how projects would affect climate change. The administration denies that the plan would prevent agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions.
Also this week, state agriculture secretaries will be in the national capital area for the annual winter policy conference of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, starting Monday in Arlington, Va.
During a session Wednesday at USDA headquarters the state officials are scheduled to meeting with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and FDA Administrator Stephen Hahn.
Perdue later will head to San Antonio, Texas, to speak Friday at Commodity Classic, the annual trade show and convention for the grain and soybean producers.
In the Senate this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has teed up action on the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department. MacGregor had to be renominated by Trump in January after the Senate failed to act on her nomination in 2019.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the nomination on a voice vote earlier this month. She is currently serving as deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
In the House, the climate change debate will take an unusual turn as the House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on two different approaches , one Democrat, the other Republican, that are aimed at using public lands and forest to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One bill, the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act, sponsored by Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., would require the Interior Department and the Forest Service, part of USDA, to have net-zero emissions from public lands by 2040.
The bill would bar new fossil fuel leases on federal lands until Interior and the Forest Service have a plan in place for meeting the target. “Our public lands and water should be managed for the public’s benefit, not for the benefit of oil, gas and coal corporations,” he said.
The second bill, whose co-sponsors include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the Trillion Trees Act. Recent Swiss research concluded that the world has room for a trillion new trees, which if planted could cancel out a decade’s worth of global carbon emissions.
Among the things, the bill would promote planting trees in urban areas and existing forests and assist other countries in expanding forests and reversing deforestation.
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“Trees are the ultimate carbon sequestration device,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Bruce Westerman, R-Ark. “Every day, countless billions of plant cells are pulling carbon from the atmosphere and permanently storing it in wood.”
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Feb. 24
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture winter policy conference, through Wednesday, Renaissance Arlington Capital View, Arlington, Va.
10 a.m. — Bipartisan Policy Center forum, “Strengthening Transparency at EPA: Growing the Data and Evidence Culture,” 1225 Eye St. NW.
Tuesday, Feb. 25
All day — Public hearing on Trump administration to change environmental review requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, Interior Department, 1849 C Street NW.
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service, 366 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Feb. 26
10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Innovative Wood Products: Promoting Rural Economies and Healthy Forests,” 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. — House Natural Resources Committee hearing, on the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act and Trillion Trees Act, 1324 Longworth.
10:30 a.m. — House Ways and Means Committee hearing on U.S.-China trade, 1100 Longworth.
Thursday, Feb. 27
Commodity Classic, though Saturday, San Antonio, Texas.
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
9:30 a.m. — House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2008 Rayburn.
11 a.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, 2362-A Rayburn.
1 p.m. — House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service, 2008 Rayburn.
Friday, Feb. 28
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