WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2017 - President Trump’s advisers are getting an earful about the potential impact of his trade policy on the U.S. farm economy.
Peter Navarro, who heads the new White House National Trade Council, and Jason Greenblatt, who has the title of international negotiator, met privately yesterday with Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee and will meet behind closed doors today with the full committee, sources say.
Yesterday’s meeting became fairly “heated,” according to one aide who attended. Chuck Grassley and Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, warned the advisers about the importance of trade agreements to the farm sector. Grassley said he “pointed out that U.S. agriculture is often the first target when countries retaliate against the United States on trade.”
Roberts told Agri-Pulse before the meeting that he intended to make clear to the White House “that we’re going through a pretty rough patch with agriculture and we have to export.”
U.S.-Mexico relations ‘troubling.’ Trump’s threat to renegotiate the North American Free-Trade Agreement and his decision to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership have been major concerns at this winter’s annual meetings of U.S. commodity groups.
At this week’s meeting of the U.S. Grains Council in Panama, President and CEO Tom Sleight said his Mexican staff is “getting some cool receptions when they talk to people that we’ve been working with for decades. That’s troubling.” Mexico is the No. 1 market now for U.S. corn.
The council’s representatives in Mexico and Japan says it isn’t going to be easy to reach new agreements with either of those countries. Japan may push for increased U.S. market access for wagyu beef, a pricey, high-quality product native to the country. Mexico is expected to seek help for its grain and dairy sectors.
Farm slump gets House focus. The House Agriculture Committee today will be investigating the slump in the U.S. farm economy with an eye toward maintaining funding for farm bill spending.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, wants to make the case that new cuts in farm bill spending are unwarranted and that Congress needs to enact a new farm bill before the existing law expires next fall.
The farm economy is “different than it was in 2014” when the last farm bill was written, “and hopefully that logic will prevail,” Conaway said.
The economists who will testify at today’s hearing will include Rob Johansson, the USDA’s chief economist, and Nathan Kauffman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve. The Kansas City Fed reported last week that farmland values in its region dropped 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 over the same period a year earlier.
OMB, EPA picks headed for confirmation. Trump’s effort to roll back Obama-era regulations is about to get a boost with confirmation of a pair of key nominees. Despite fierce Democratic opposition, Senate Republicans expect to have EPA nominee Scott Pruitt confirmed by the end of this week along with Mick Mulvaney, who will head the Office of Management and Budget.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is eager to get Pruitt in place at EPA. “The EPA over the last eight years with its regulatory rampage has really lost sight of this balance that we need in environmental regulation and a strong and healthy economy,” Barrasso said.
As OMB director, Mulvaney will have a lot to say about enforcing Trump’s executive order that requires eliminating two regulations for every new one that’s implemented.
Farm groups also will be watching to see what positions Mulvaney will take on agricultural spending.
For more on Trump’s nominees and an issue that could land soon on Mulvaney’s desk - the cotton industry’s request new farm bill support - be sure and read the weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter hitting inboxes today.
Committee to attack pesticide regulations. The House Agriculture Committee will move a bill on Thursday that would nullify some permitting requirements for application of pesticides.
The bill, called the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, would reverse a 2009 federal court ruling that pesticide applicators have to get EPA permits for spraying over areas designated as “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act.
Jay Vroom, president and CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, says that ending what he calls a redundant regulation “is vitally important for the protection of our national food supply.”
Critics of the court ruling say the permits are unnecessary for pesticides that the EPA has already approved. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
Ag Democrats makes case for SNAP. The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee’s nutrition subcommittee, Jim McGovern, has released a five-page letter arguing against making cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The letter to Committee Chairman Conaway is filled with excerpts from testimony at the series of hearings the committee held over the past two years on the program. “SNAP is a vital tool to help struggling Americans get back on their feet and participation has steadily declined as economic conditions have improved because of its entitlement stature,” McGovern writes.
The committee will have a hearing on Thursday on the pros and cons of restricting the types of foods and beverages that can be purchased with SNAP benefits.
He said it. “The attitude between the United States and Mexico has got to improve, and I think it will, but we’ve got to get there.” - Tom Sleight, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council.
Spencer Chase contributed to this report.