Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making his first appearance in Iowa this weekend, was one of the early speakers at the Iowa Ag Summit on Saturday.
His conversation on stage was enough that Bush got the first big standing ovation among the morning speakers, reflecting perhaps a little early support for Bush among the farm community in Iowa.
Iowa agri-businessman Bruce Rastetter, who operated as host and questioner for the event, started out asking Bush about trade and the U.S.-China relationship.
"It's one that we need to manage with great care because of the complexity of the relationship," he said. "They are a competitor is some ways, and certainly from a strategic and national security point of view we need to be vigilant in relation to their efforts to use cyber warfare against us."
Still, Bush noted the "huge opportunities" in the relationship with China regarding trade. He pointed to the 7% growth rate in the Chinese economy. U.S. farmers should "take advantage of the trade opportunities which are probably the greatest opportunities American agriculture has, which is likely to be China over the next generation of time."
"We should ultimately trade with Cuba when Cuba is free. The difference between Cuba and China is China has huge economic opportunities for us."
Bush downplayed the economic benefits of trade with China right now, comparing it more to North Korea as a dictatorship than a country emerging toward a freer place.
"Any efforts taken by the Obama administration right now has not offered any benefits in return," Bush said. He added shortly after, "Right now this is not something that we should be doing unless there are big-time changes in Cuba."
Bush later added that free trade is going to be "one of the great Godsends for the next generation of agriculture." The president should be given Trade Promotion Authority from Congress, he said.
On immigration policy, Bush said the rule of law needs to be recognized. People should be penalized for overstaying their visas and businesses need an E-Verify system is needed that is truly verifiable so there will be more confidence moving forward that legal immigration would be easier than illegal immigration.
Still, Bush said the U.S. needs to move away from an immigration system based heavily on family petitions that are broad in regards to who qualifies as family. The country also should look at the way Canada has broadened its visas for economic circumstances and business.
"Canada has more economic immigrants then we do and we're ten times their size," Bush said.
That would include a guest-worker program for agriculture based on demand, he said.
Still, Bush also said undocumented immigrants that are already in U.S. need a path to legalization. No one right now has a plan to deal with those undocumented immigrants here now, he said. Those people should pay fines, learn English, work, do not receive government assistance and come out of the shadows. "This is the only serious, thoughtful way of dealing with this and we better start doing it because this is a competitive world," Bush said. "We are not operating on all of our cylinders right now to be successful."
Regarding the RFS, Bush also said EPA should create a more certain plan to ensure the volume requirements are in place. The uncertainty makes it hard for people to make investment decisions. "As we move forward for the long haul, there should be certainty for people to invest," Bush said, "and we ought to continue to innovate to create the lowest-cost energy sources in the world so we can grow economically.
Ultimately, however, markets should decide fuel production and usage, leading to a reduction of the RFS because ethanol will be considered part of the normal energy stocks. At some point the country will see the need to reduce because ethanol will be such a major part of everything else.
On another energy source, Bush said the wind-production tax credit has created a wind industry that is now competitive and the tax credit needs to be phased out over time.
Rastetter also frequently asked candidates about country-of-origin labeling. Bush said, "I like that as a consumer." He wants to know where is avocado for his guacamole comes from, as well as his beef. "I like the country-of-origin labeling and it is prevalent in supermarkets in this country," Bush said.
On crop insurance, Bush said crop insurance was critical to Florida producers when he was governor. He pointed to various hurricanes as well as crop diseases such as citrus greening. "The crop-insurance industry creates a stability that makes it possible in very volatile kinds of situations for farmers to be able to be successful."
Talking about water challenges dovetailed into the EPA-Army Corps of Engineers rule redefining what classifies as waters of the United States. Bush called it " just outrageous, the definition of water." He noted Florida, before it was settled, was basically a giant wetlands.
"They can now put their tentacles into every aspect of every activity in the state of Florida and I'm sure here in Iowa it's the same," Bush said. "We have to begin to rein in this top-down driven regulatory system and figure out more collaborative ways that achieves the most good."
How do you change that? Bush said, "The first thing you do is you change presidents."
More regulatory authority should be shifted back to the state and local authorities. Federal rules should go through a more rigid cost-benefit analysis that is based more on real economic impacts, Bush said. "Even if it is a well-intended idea, if it costs 3x more than the benefit, then we shouldn't do it."
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