WASHINGTON, May 24, 2016 - President Barack Obama’s Asia trip is already paying off. Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang gave a hearty assurance Monday that his country will ratify and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

The Vietnamese president, in a joint press conference with Obama in Hanoi, stressed that his country is working closely with other TPP countries “to reduce differences in a spirit of constructiveness and understanding, and paying attention to one another’s legitimate interests.” And, he added, Vietnam is “prepared to ratify TPP, and we stand ready to implement all the commitments under TPP.”

That has to be welcome news to U.S. trade officials who are working now to show U.S. lawmakers that other TPP countries are working to put the trade pact into place.

Obama downplayed opposition in Congress to the TPP, saying that he “spent enough time in the Senate to know that every trade deal is painful, because folks are always seeing if they can get an even better deal.”

In the end, though, he said he is certain that Congress will approve TPP.

“And the reason I'm confident is because it's the right thing to do,” Obama said. “It's good for the country.  It's good for America.  It's good for the region.  It's good for the world.”

FSIS rejects catfish from Vietnam. Obama’s trip to Vietnam may have just gotten a little more complicated. That’s because USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has blocked two shipments of catfish imports from Vietnam after discovering they were contaminated with residues of unapproved chemicals.

Vietnam has objected for years to USDA taking over catfish inspection from the FDA out of fears of USDA’s stricter food safety standards.

FSIS officials began inspecting imported catfish on Apr. 15 and the two shipments from Vietnam were inspected and rejected on May 12 and May 16.

Chad Causey, a spokesman for Catfish Farmers of America, said in reaction: “This inspection program has always been about food safety and FDA failed to do its job, inspecting less than 0.2% of (catfish) via sampling. That is why only days into FSIS inspection of (catfish), FSIS has tested and rejected two shipments of imported catfish because they found malachite green and crystal violet contamination in the fish product that would have otherwise made their way to restaurant tables or grocery store freezers.”

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill … Just as the news is coming in that FSIS has rejected two imported catfish shipments, there’s a new threat to the new inspection program in Congress.

The senate is scheduled to vote today on a measure that would scrap the federal rule that allows the USDA to continue to inspect catfish. Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, speaking Monday evening on the Senate floor, urged his colleagues to vote no on the “resolution of disapproval.” If the measure is passed, he said, Congress would essentially be allowing the contaminated catfish that USDA rejected to enter the country.

But there is very vocal support for stopping the USDA catfish inspection program from senators like Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who say it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“As a result of this program, the American taxpayer is estimated to be on the hook for $15 million a year to pay for USDA catfish inspectors who will be working alongside FDA inspectors doing the exact same job,” McCain and Ayotte said in a joint statement last December. “The true purpose of the catfish program is to erect a trade barrier against foreign catfish suppliers to the economic benefit of a handful of domestic catfish growers in southern states.”

A spokesman for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., told Agri-Pulse, “It’s ironic that the Senate may try to upend this program at the same time it is showing success in ensuring that unsafe products do not reach consumers.”

White House blasts bill over WOTUS, sought measures. The White House says it “strongly opposes” a House spending bill that would block the administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule and weaken environmental rules to help farmers in California. The White House’s list of objections to the fiscal 2017 Energy-Water bill include the WOTUS rider as well as provisions that would roll back endangered species protections in California’s Central Valley to provide more water to the region.

The courts have already put the WOTUS rule on hold while they consider legal challenges to it. But the White House statement of administration policy says that legislation would “disrupt the administration's current efforts to clarify the scope” of the Clean Water Act, “hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance.”

The White House also doesn’t like a section of the bill that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for discharges of pollutants that would harm wetlands or other waters. 

The House is scheduled to debate the spending bill this week.

Grilling may be cheaper this Memorial Day. It could be a lot less expensive this year to throw some steaks, ribs and chicken on the grill for the Memorial Day weekend. Meat production is up about 5 percent this month from May last year, according to USDA economist Shayle Shagam and that means grocery stores are getting great deals on the beef, pork and chicken they will be selling.

Beef wholesale prices are down 19 percent from what they were a year ago, while pork ribs are down 20 percent and chicken breast prices are down 24 percent, Shagam said. And it could mean big savings for shoppers if stores pass along those savings.

ICYMI: The National Association of Wheat Growers will have a new CEO on July 5. As Agri-Pulse reported last night, the group selected Chandler Goule after an extensive search. Goule has served as the National Farmers Union’s senior vice president of programs since 2014, after originally joining NFU in 2009 as vice president of government relations. Goule replaces current CEO Jim Palmer, who announced plans to step down on May 31.
Phil Brasher contributed to this report.


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com