U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is set to deliver a speech Monday about the Biden administration’s approach to U.S.-China trade, an issue that has taken a back seat to the domestic agenda the president is struggling to get through Congress.
Also on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce details of a loan guarantee program aimed at expanding meat processing capacity and reducing the impact of plant disruptions that depress livestock prices and cause spikes in retail meat prices.
Biden’s top congressional priorities have been thrown in doubt after House Democratic leaders canceled a vote Friday on a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The decision to put off the vote came after Biden met with the Democratic caucus Friday and sided with progressives in linking passage of the infrastructure bill with approval of his larger Build Back Better package of social spending and climate policy.
Congress subsequently passed a 30-day extension of federal highway programs that effectively relieved the pressure on lawmakers to finish the infrastructure bill, which included a reauthorization of highway programs. Authority for the programs expired on Thursday with the end of the federal fiscal year.
The House has no further votes planned until the week of Oct. 18, but Biden insisted to reporters on Saturday that both bills can still get enacted, though he declined to offer a timetable.
“I know how legislation gets done. There is no reason why both these bills couldn’t pass independently except that there are not the votes to do it that way. It’s a simple proposition,” Biden said. He was referring to the fact that many House progressives refused to support the Senate-passed infrastructure bill until they were assured the larger budget reconciliation bill would become law.
Farm groups will be eagerly watching Tai’s speech on Monday to the Center for Strategic and International Studies for clues as to how Biden will approach China on trade. So far, Biden has chosen to leave in place the tariffs that then-President Donald Trump imposed on China.
In August, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other ag and business groups signed a letter that the US-China Business Council letter sent to Tai and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking them to take “swift action to address the costly and burdensome tariffs and retaliatory tariffs” as well as make sure that Trump's “phase one” trade deal with China is fully implemented. China committed to purchasing $80 billion worth of U.S. ag commodities in 2020 and 2021.
Several commodity groups also will be listening for assurances from Tai that the administration will use the World Trade Organization to force China to lower its trade barriers and reform its subsidy system
Later, Tai will head to Paris for meetings on climate policy with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on Tuesday and Wednesday. The theme for the meeting is “Shared Values: Building a Green and Inclusive Future.”
She will chair an OECD session on Wednesday titled “Promoting Trade for All” on Wednesday and also will hold discussions related to the World Trade Organization and the U.S.-Europe relationship.
The loan guarantee program that Vilsack is announcing on Monday is “aimed at expanding capacity for meat and poultry processing and addressing bottlenecks in the food supply chain created by the pandemic,” according to a USDA media advisory.
The White House issued a report in September blaming consolidation in the meat industry for increases in retail meat prices. “The reality is today that farmers are losing money on cattle, on hogs, and poultry that they're selling, at a time when consumers are seeing higher prices at the grocery store …. the fact that there are now record profits or near-record profits for those in the middle," Vilsack said at a White House event.
The four largest meatpackers — Tyson, JBS, National Beef (owned by Leucadia) and Cargill — control between 80% and 90% of the fed cattle slaughter market, according to the North American Meat Institute.
It’s expensive to build new meat processing plants. Kansas State University economist Glynn Tonsor says beef packing facilities cost about $100,000 per head of capacity to build.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Oct. 4
U.S. Supreme Court begins new term.
10 a.m. — U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks on U.S.-China trade policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Oct. 5
1 p.m. — Consumer Federation of America’s Virtual National Food Policy Conference.
Wednesday, Oct. 6
11 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, “Emerging Contaminants, Forever Chemicals, and More: Challenges to Water Quality, Public Health, and Communities,” 2167 Rayburn.
1 p.m. — CFA’s National Food Policy Conference.
2:30 p.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the status and management of drought in the West, 366 Dirksen.
Thursday, Oct. 7
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
Noon — House Agriculture Committee hearing on the livestock industry, 1300 Longworth.
Noon — Center for American Progress forum, “Climate Change and the Judiciary.”
Friday, Oct. 8
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