WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2017 - Trade talks with Mexico and Canada move into their fourth round this week, while the House Agriculture Committee continues its preparations for the next farm bill by holding a listening session in upstate New York.
The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened in Washington in August, moves to Arlington, Va., on Tuesday. The fourth round will continue through Sunday.
The negotiations this week are expected to get into one of the most contentious agriculture issues, new anti-dumping provisions sought by Florida tomato operations and other produce growers in order to challenge Mexican exports. The issue divides U.S. agriculture because of fear that Mexico could retaliate against other commodities.
Ahead of the talks, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway took four other House colleagues to Ottawa on Friday and Saturday to make clear to Canadian officials that U.S. farmers were intent on finishing the negotiations, he said. Conaway said in a statement Saturday evening that the meetings were “productive” but provided no detail.
He said farmers would stay engaged with the talks “to ensure their interests are taken into account. This is too important to screw up.”
Monday is a federal holiday, but Conaway’s committee will hold its last scheduled farm bill listening session in Cobleskill, N.Y., where the Margin Protection Program for dairy is likely to be a major topic for attendees. The committee has previously held listening sessions in Florida, Texas, Minnesota, California and Illinois.
Conaway will be joined at the session on the campus of SUNY Cobleskill by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson, and committee members Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and John Faso, R-N.Y. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., also will participate, although she isn’t on the committee.
The Senate is not in action this week, and the House has a truncated schedule due to the Columbus Day holiday.
But on Wednesday, the new chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Chris Giancarlo, will testify before Conaway’s committee about his agenda for the agency.
A top priority for the CFTC, now under Republican control, is dealing with a position-limits rule required by the Dodd-Frank law. The threshold for being regulated as a swaps dealer is scheduled to drop from $8 billion to $3 billion in December 2018, a rule implemented by the CFTC when it was under Democratic control.
Giancarlo says the $3 billion exemption limit would force agribusiness companies and others to cut back on their trading to make sure they stay under that threshold, and new commissioner Brian Quintenz expressed similar concerns during his Senate confirmation hearing.
The commission’s lone Democratic member, Ross Behnam, supports the lower threshold.
Conaway said he wanted to hear from Giancarlo “about his plans for the CFTC and his agenda to promote strong risk management markets.”
Also this week, USDA will finally get a deputy secretary and the department’s first secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Steve Censky and Ted McKinney, who won Senate confirmation to the respective positions last week, will be sworn in during a ceremony at USDA on Tuesday morning.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over where legal challenges to the “waters of the U.S.” rule (WOTUS) should be brought – federal district courts or the federal courts of appeals.
The dispute turns on language in the Clean Water Act that appears to favor the argument of industry groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and American Farm Bureau Federation that lawsuits should be filed in district courts.
Legal precedent would appear to be on the side of the government and two environmental groups – the Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation – which argue that appellate courts are the proper venue. Many more environmental groups back NAM and AFBF’s position.
The 6th Circuit stayed implementation of WOTUS two years ago and then issued a fractured decision finding that appellate courts are the proper venue for such a case. If the Supreme Court says otherwise, however, as some observers are predicting, the result could be a mish-mash of lawsuits throughout the country, with different district courts issuing inconsistent rulings.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 9
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee holds farm bill listening session, Cobleskill, N.Y.
Tuesday, Oct. 10
All day - Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum, New York. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will be interviewed during the afternoon sessions.
11 a.m. - Steve Censky to be sworn as deputy agriculture secretary and Ted McKinney as undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, Whitten Building.
Noon - Heritage Foundation forum on the WOTUS rule, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Wednesday, Oct. 11
Fourth round of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, through Sunday, Sheraton Pentagon City, Arlington, Va.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s agenda, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Supreme Court hears oral arguments in WOTUS case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense.
2 p.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on the USDAID’s Africa budget, 2200 Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on trade opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, 1100 Longworth.
Thursday, Oct. 12
Friday, Sept. 29
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
1:30 p.m. - American Enterprise Institute hosts panel discussion, “U.S. Agricultural Policy in Disarray,” 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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