The House takes up a competition bill later this week that includes a number of trade provisions that have implications for the agriculture sector.

The massive bill, which is more than 2,900 pages long, would renew the Generalized System of Preferences program, which provides duty-free treatment to qualified poor countries, but would add new environmental and labor criteria that developing nations would have to meet.

The bill, which is primarily targeted at increasing U.S. competitiveness with China, also would sweeten the Trade Adjustment Assistance program for farmers by tripling the benefits that producers can receive.

House Democrats say the Senate version of the bill doesn’t go far enough. But a senior House Republican, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, says the House measure contains what he calls partisan poison pills, and that provisions in the bill could actually harm U.S. competitiveness.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the legislation “brings together many bills that have garnered strong bipartisan support in the past, and I’m hopeful it will pass with that same bipartisan spirit.”       

For more of what is on the D.C. agenda for the coming week and month, read our Washington Week AheadCosco Ship

Ag groups push for Senate shipping bill

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Thune, R-S.D., are in the final stages of releasing the Senate version of a bill to improve port conditions for agricultural exports, sources tell Agri-Pulse. The House version passed in December, 364-60, with strong support from the ag sector.

More than 100 farm groups, cooperatives and ag companies are urging senators to finish work on the measure. “The transportation crisis for US agriculture products has become increasingly dire,” the organizations say in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Many agriculture products produced in the U.S. experience significant competition from other countries. If we cannot deliver our products dependably, our foreign customers will find alternatives to our exports.”

The ag groups say the Senate bill should address the responsibility of ocean carriers to accept containers filled with farm commodity exports, something the House bill would do.

Lawmakers: Ease vax mandate for H-2A workers

A bipartisan group of House members is calling on the Homeland Security Department to give farmers some flexibility with the new vaccine mandate for essential travelers arriving in the United States.

The mandate threatens to delay the arrival of H-2A workers “in an industry where even a few days delay in performing critical time-sensitive tasks can affect the size and quality of the crop,” the 12 lawmakers say in a letter led by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. Some H-2A workers may be unable to travel at all, the lawmakers add.

Bottom line: Farmworkers should be allowed to get vaccinated on arrival in the U.S. or through industry clinics at American embassies or consular offices in their home country, the lawmakers say.

Pelosi dismisses March 1 deadline for BBB

House progressives are calling on the Senate to pass a new, smaller version of the Build Back Better bill by March 1, when President Biden is scheduled to make his State of the Union address. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. insists the bill won’t move until it’s got the votes. “We don’t have a timetable,” Pelosi said Friday.

In a Washington Week in Review interview with Agri-Pulse, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., pledged to keep working to enact the bill’s $550 billion in climate provisions. She said the $80 billion in ag and forestry provisions in the bill have broad support.

“If there is an area where Democrats and Republicans can come together, senators and House members, a lot of that is around agriculture,” Bustos said. Flooded corn

White House, Congress urged to spare crop insurance

The crop insurance industry is urging the White House and key congressional committees not to propose cuts to crop insurance. The White House didn’t call for any cuts in its fiscal 2022 budget, and the industry would like to keep it that way.

“As the challenges for America’s farmers and ranchers continue to grow, we believe crop insurance as a safety net is only becoming more important to stability in rural America,” industry groups said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Office of Management and Budget.

“During this tumultuous time, one of the few certainties that farmers could rely on was the protection provided by their federal crop insurance policy.”

China snapping up next year’s soybeans

It’s late January, and the Brazilian soybean harvest is underway, but China is still buying U.S. soybeans from the old crop as well as the crop that hasn’t even been planted yet. USDA announced Friday new Chinese commitments to buy 264,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans for the 2022-23 marketing year.

Mac Marshall, vice president of market intelligence at the United Soybean Board and U.S. Soybean Export Council, tells Agri-Pulse it’s another sign that China’s pork industry continues to strengthen. The purchases are "reflective of the rebound in their pig herd and demonstrate a clear desire for U.S. soy – not just in the present, but also the future.”

Field to Market focuses on finance in new strategic plan

More collaboration with financial institutions and a broader adoption of partnerships across the supply chain are among the goals in Field to Market’s three-year strategic plan.

The mostly industry-led sustainable agriculture group says it plans to “deepen engagement with the financial community” to spur creation of “innovative finance mechanisms that leverage matching funds from private sector, philanthropic organizations and government.”

FTM, which named Scott Herndon its new president in December when longtime leader Rod Snyder left to become the agricultural adviser to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, also said it would seek to create a standardized approach for how industry can help farmers determine the economic feasibility of sustainable practices.

She said it. “There is a realization, a stark realization, that we have to address inflation.” - Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., saying the Biden administration is working to address voters’ concerns about rising prices.