WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2016 - Despite all of the attacks on U.S. trade policy during this year’s presidential campaign, there is one bright spot for agricultural producers, and that’s with Cuba. There are signs that Congress could act yet this year to ease financing restrictions on exports to Cuba.  The issue will get some focus this morning at a hearing the House Agriculture Committee is holding on trade with Cuba. A rice producer from Arkansas will be the lead witness. 

Exports to Cuba must now be bought with cash or through third-party guarantees from foreign banks. Rice producers say they could get 30 percent of the Cuban rice market within two years, if those restrictions were eased. That would amount to 135,000 metric tons of new demand. 

US credibility ‘on line’ with TPP, lawmakers told. The White House, meanwhile, continues working to build a case for its trade policy even as congressional leaders insist there is no chance the Trans-Pacific Partnership will get a vote before President Obama leaves office. Today, administration officials will be meeting with members of the White House Export Council, which includes CEOs of Dow Chemical and Campbell Soup. 

White House spokesman Eric Schultz disclosed yesterday that Obama used a meeting with congressional members on Monday to press for a vote on the TPP. Obama told them that U.S. credibility in Asia “is on the line,” Schultz said.

Also yesterday, the administration announced that it was filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China’s domestic price supports for corn, wheat and rice. Administration officials denied that WTO complaint was linked to their push for TPP. But nevertheless they used the announcement to make a pitch for approval of the TPP. 

In his statement on the WTO case, Obama brought up the TPP and said that U.S. businesses need more than enforcement of existing trade rules. “As our global economy evolves, we have to ensure America plays a leading role in setting the highest standards for the rest of the world to follow,” Obama said. 

Trump adviser pushes for tighter control on agencies. Donald Trump’s campaign is making the pitch to farm groups that they’ll have a bigger say in the EPA, FDA and other agencies, if he’s elected president. 

Trump’s agriculture adviser, Sam Clovis, tells Agri-Pulse that the Agriculture Department should have fought harder to shape the “waters of the U.S.” rule. And Clovis spoke approvingly of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s idea of a special White House council to coordinate food policy. “Hell of a thought, don’t you think?” Clovis responded, when asked about the proposal. Similar ideas have worked in the past in other areas of government. 

Clovis says that a Trump administration will make sure that agency personnel “understand that they work for the American people. They don’t work for Congress. They don’t work for the president.”

Vilsack has said that he worked privately with EPA to raise concerns about the WOTUS rule. Clovis’ comments came in an interview after he and the chairman of Trump’s agricultural advisory council, Charles Herbster, talked off the record to a luncheon of agribusiness groups.

Read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter for the more from the Clovis interview with the campaign’s views on the farm bill, immigration and the TPP.

House Ag looks to update auction rules. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to approve a bill today that would extend the requirements of the Packers and Stockyards Act to online and video auctions that are charging commissions or fees. 

The bill, sponsored by David Rouzer, R-N.C., is designed to ensure that the online and video auctions must comply with the same rules as traditional livestock markets. According to a source, USDA will probably be OK with the bill. 

SNAP pilot results won’t be ready for farm bill. Congress will have to write the next farm bill without having complete results from the SNAP pilot projects that Congress authorized in the 2014 farm bill. But a key lawmaker says there should be enough data to consider revising work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The projects are designed to test different ways to get food stamp recipients into the workforce or into higher-paying jobs. 

The full data won’t be available to Congress until 2021. But the chairwoman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition, Jackie Walorski, says she thinks the pilot projects will be far enough along to give information lawmakers they need.

Walorski says it will be the first time that lawmakers have had evidence-based ideas to study. She says prior debates over SNAP work requirements have been by anecdotes or opinions.

“We're going to see trends that work, and we're going to see things that maybe haven't been considered before,” she said. She says she’s very optimistic based on what she heard so far that the projects are working. 

Bayer improving bid for Monsanto: Numerous sources are reporting that Bayer is upping its previous $127.50/share offer to sweeten its bid for Monsanto, while doubling the antitrust breakup fee to about $3 billion. Bayer's supervisory board was due to meet Wednesday. Look for more in today’s edition of the Agri-Pulse newsletter.

He said it. “If you don’t have labor available, if you don’t have water available, you don’t have the ability to be competitive with other international markets.” - Ken Barbic of the Western Growers Association, speaking at a Farm Foundation forum on the need for Congress and the new president to address immigration reform and drought relief.



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