WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2017 - President Donald Trump only took office Friday, but he and his administration are already moving forward on some key campaign promises. While much of the mainstream press was focused this weekend on the size of the crowds in Washington, Trump was reaching out to the leaders of Mexico and Canada.Together with the U.S., the three countries are bound by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has blamed NAFTA for enticing companies to relocate manufacturing plants in Mexico. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday that the president spoke on the phone to both Canadian prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “The president had a constructive conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada about strengthening the relationship between our two nations,” Spicer said at a press briefing, in which he didn’t take questions. “They also discussed setting up additional meetings in the days to come, which we will follow up on. (Trump) also spoke to (President) Peña Nieto of Mexico about a visit on trade, immigration and security that will occur on the 31st.”
Trump pledged often on the campaign trail to renegotiate NAFTA or possibly pull out of the pact with two of our largest trading partners. Farm and trade groups speculated that it might not happen, but Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Department nominee said last week that renegotiating the trade pact would his first priority.
“NAFTA is logically the first thing for us to deal with,” Ross said at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. “I think all aspects of NAFTA will be put on the table …”
The meeting with Peña Nieto is just a week away, but British Prime Minister Theresa May will be the first foreign leader that President Trump will host. That meeting is scheduled for Friday and trade between the U.S. and UK is expected to be one topic the two will discuss.
Rice farmers to Congress and Trump: There’s a lot we like about NAFTA. With all the talk about renegotiating or possibly pulling out of NAFTA, the USA Rice Federation is speaking out about how the three-country trade pact benefits farmers and exporters.
"President Trump has made renegotiation of NAFTA a key goal, but we can't forget that NAFTA is the single largest factor behind the critical importance of the Canadian and Mexican markets to rice and many other U.S. agriculture exports," said Bob Cummings, chief operating officer of USA Rice. "Improving trade agreements is good, but we must preserve what works and has delivered results for close to two decades."
Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. rice, a commodity that depends heavily on exports. The U.S. exported about $286 million worth of rice to Mexico in 2015, according to USDA data.
"We'll continue our outreach to the Hill and launch an education effort with the new administration's officials,” Cummings said.
USA Rice was just one of several groups that dispatched representatives to meet with members of the Senate Agriculture and Finance Committees to discuss the importance of NAFTA to farmers.
Farm credit dries up amid concerns over financial stress. Low commodity prices and declining farm revenue are scaring bankers into lending less money and forcing farmers to tighten their belts, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
The number of farm loans in the fourth quarter of 2016 dropped by 40 percent from the same time period in 2015, the largest decrease in 20 years, according to the report. But as bad as it is now, it could be worse in 2017.
“A gradual increase in the level of financial stress in the farm sector has caused agricultural lenders and borrowers to become increasingly cautious,” the report concluded. “Although declines in the cost of some key inputs have provided modest relief, profit margins have remained low and new farm loan originations dropped sharply in the fourth quarter. If profit margins remain low through 2017, the pace of new debt will be a key indicator to monitor in assessing the severity of financial stress through the year.”
USDA rules delayed by Trump administration. One of the first things the Trump administration did after taking power on Friday was put the brakes on some federal rules.
Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, issued an order to government agencies to put in place a “regulatory freeze.” Rules that were recently submitted to Federal Register but not yet published were ordered to be immediately withdrawn. Rules that were published but have not yet been implemented were ordered to be delayed by 60 days.
One controversial interim final rule that was delayed would help livestock producers in disputes with processors. USDA's Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) released its Fair Farmer Practices rule on Dec. 14 and it was scheduled to take effect Feb. 21.
Livestock groups were mostly opposed to the USDA rule that sought to remove requirements that poultry and other producers prove industry-wide damage in order for them to legally challenge contracts.
Another postponed rule from USDA would allow U.S. imports of lemons from Northwest Argentina.
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