A former chief economist for USDA, Joe Glauber, warned recently that the billions of dollars in payments to farmers to offset trade wars and COVID-19 impacts would “attract attention” on an international level. And that’s exactly what’s happening.

Canada, the European Union, India, Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, New Zealand, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia all raised concerns of international market distortion Wednesday at the World Trade Organization. The countries asked the U.S. to explain the roughly $34 billion in what they consider trade-distorting payments in 2019. The WTO cap for those “amber box” subsidies is $19.1 billion.

USDA announced last week a new $14 billion round of coronavirus relief payments, and that was also brought up in the WTO meeting.  

Keep in mind: Glauber expects U.S. amber box subsidies to reach $40 billion this year, more than double the annual limit. 

Biden would reassess chaotic China policy

A key House Democrat promises former Vice President Joe Biden would make a complete reassessment of the U.S. relationship with China as president, with an emphasis on ending tariffs that weigh heavily on U.S. farmers and manufacturers. 

“I am quite confident that a President Biden would go through a thorough reappraisal,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade. “We want to do this in a thoughtful, reasonable fashion – find a way to unwind the elements that are the most destructive.”

The tariffs need to go in order to give U.S. exporters more certainty and restore international confidence that the U.S. is a reliable source for ag commodities, Blumenauer said in a webinar hosted by the Washington International Trade Association.

Read our report on the differences between Trump and Biden on trade policy here. We also have a report on a debate Wednesday between surrogates for Biden and Trump. 

Terry Branstad with Xiaoping Zhang, U.S. Soybean Export Council’s regional director for greater China, and Jim Zhang, USSEC aquaculture program manager.

Branstad still advocating for US ag in China  

U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is resigning his post and heading back to Iowa next month, but for now he’s still working to help market U.S. farm goods to the Chinese. Branstad, who hosted a celebration of the signing of the U.S. constitution at the embassy last week, made sure there was room for a booth run by the U.S. Soybean Export Council. 

He also invited officials from Chinese food companies as well as the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Chamber of Commerce of Foodstuffs.

Branstad, Trump administration officials tell Agri-Pulse, played a major role in crafting the “phase one” trade pact between the U.S. and China and the continued rise in Chinese soybean purchases is pointed to as proof of the success of the deal. 

Chinese buyers were in the U.S. market again this week, according to a Wednesday daily export sales report published by USDA. China bought at least 132,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans in the latest announcement. USDA also announced sales of 126,000 tons of soybeans to “unknown destinations.”

Vincente Reyes
Lawmakers told to use stimulus to legalize workers

House Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic to make the case that farmworkers and other essential workers who are undocumented should get legal status. 

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, told the House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday that the next Congress should use an economic stimulus bill to provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers. Those workers "will be essential to rebuilding our economy,” he said. 

A young California farmworker, DACA recipient and college student, Vincente Reyes, told the lawmakers that undocumented workers are reluctant to speak up about dangerous job conditions for fear of being deported. “We are exposed to extreme heat, pesticides, to the risk of getting COVID-19. More recently, to the wildfires, and air that's unhealthy to breathe.” 

Reyes said the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would legalize undocumented ag workers, would allow him to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer for NASA.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., expressed astonishment that Democrats were pushing for legalization of undocumented workers during a pandemic and time of widespread unemployment: “How tone deaf can you be?”

Renewable fuels attempt to stay top of mind as election nears

Biofuel supporters say their industry is still relevant to “swing state” voters in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin voters ahead of the election despite the recent wins on small refinery exemptions.

“Is ethanol and the RFS the top issue on the minds of voters in those states? No, probably not ... but can it be a difference maker at the margin and a wedge issue, it absolutely can,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper told reporters Wednesday.

Cooper argues the administration still has to set annual blending targets and act on other small refinery exemptions, saying “decisions do matter, and voters are paying attention.”

Farm groups backing Bayer in Roundup case

Bayer is getting help in its appeal of the first verdict in the Roundup cancer trials, where a jury found that Monsanto (since bought by Bayer) had acted with “malice and oppression” in failing to warn a California school groundskeeper of the dangers of using the weedkiller.

Both CropLife America and the California Farm Bureau Federation have filed letters backing the company in its appeal to the California Supreme Court. 

An appeals court in July mostly ruled against Bayer, finding that federal pesticide law did not pre-empt Johnson’s state law claims, now a key issue before the state’s highest court. It also said in its view, Dewayne Johnson “presented abundant — and certainly substantial — evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused his cancer.”

The appeal is proceeding as Bayer rushes to settle claims that were supposed to be covered by a multibillion-dollar settlement announced in June. A case management conference in that litigation is being held virtually today before a San Francisco federal judge.

She said it. “As wildfires rage in California and other parts of the West Coast agricultural work is more dangerous than ever. Many farmworkers must now quickly harvest at-risk crops in areas where the air is filled with ash and smoke.” – Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., opening Wednesday’s hearing on essential workers who are undocumented. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com