Washington Insider -- Wednesday

Paris Attacks and U.S. Policies

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

South Africa Says Veterinary Protocol Signed with U.S. on Poultry

The U.S. and South Africa have signed a Poultry Veterinary Trade Protocol (PVTP), South African trade officials are saying, with the import quota for 65,000 metric tons of U.S. poultry on track to be implemented by the end of the year.

“We think we are going to conclude everything well before the expiry of a deadline which they said would result in the termination of agriculture exports,” said South Africa Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. The next step in the process will be an agreement between the two veterinarian bodies regarding salmonella and a separate proposal on shoulder cuts on pork.

What appears to be key in the process with South Africa is the country agreed to U.S. demands that they regionalize the import situation for poultry. South Africa in June had agreed to reopen their market to U.S. poultry, but held off putting that in effect as they expressed concern about avian influenza. However, with the agreement, the 65,000 metric-ton quota would be opened by the end of December but imports from U.S. states where bird flu outbreaks occurred would still be barred.

The pact the two countries signed is part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a U.S. program designed to help African exporters. The agreement is expected to see the U.S. emerge as one of the top poultry exporters to South Africa.

AGOA, renewed by U.S. lawmakers in June, eliminates import levies on more than 7,000 products ranging from textiles to manufactured items and benefits 39 sub-Saharan African nations. To remain beneficiaries, countries are required to eliminate barriers to US trade and investment, operate a market-based economy, protect workers’ rights and implement economic policies to reduce poverty.

As for the other issues on beef and pork, Sidwell Medupe, a spokesman for the South African agency, told Reuters, “We are on track to resolving the outstanding issues related to beef and pork. The chicken protocol shows we are moving in the right direction.”


House Passes Two-Week Highway Authorization Extension

A two-week extension of surface transportation authorization, through Dec. 4, was sent by the House to the Senate, a move to give the two chambers more time to work on a long-term bill in conference. The extension easily passed Monday evening by voice vote.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., introduced the extension on Nov. 16. The measure keeps highway and transit programs authorized through Dec. 4. Current authorization expires on Nov. 20.

“The conference committee needs the time necessary to meet in public, complete negotiations, and produce a final measure that helps improve America’s infrastructure,” Shuster said in a statement. “This clean extension provides time for that process to occur and for the House and Senate to vote on the final legislation, without shutting down transportation programs and projects in the meantime.”

Republicans and Democrats were united behind the extension and little debate occurred on the measure.

The Senate passed a six-year highway and transit bill (HR 22) in the summer, and the House amended that bill Nov. 5. The Senate on Nov. 10 agreed to go to conference with the House.

The House amendment to the Senate bill identified additional funding that would come from liquidating the Federal Reserve surplus, an account meant to absorb losses at the central bank. That pay-for, by some staff estimates, could bring in as much as $40 billion more for transportation programs. But pressure from transportation, labor and trade groups has increased since House action on the bill. The groups are calling for authorizers to shorten the length of the proposed six-year reauthorization and raise funding levels.


Washington Insider: Paris Attacks and U.S. Policies

It is not much of a stretch now to suggest that the Paris attacks are already having negative impacts on the United States. In addition to creating new headwinds against proposals to shelter displaced migrants, they are providing new opportunities to criticize efforts to build trade. For example, Politico ran a borderline criticism of President Barack Obama’s decision to participate in this week’s meetings of Asian leaders in the Philippines and Malaysia to promote trade.

While noting that it would have been awkward to cancel the long-planned trip, the agency described the meetings against the backdrop of what it called “growing pressures” for the White House to “take more action in the Middle East” and suggested that this was a peril of Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”

It is true that the White House has long insisted the U.S. must focus more on that region of the world, and, as Politico noted, the fact sheet released ahead of the trip said that “with nearly half of the earth’s population, one-third of global GDP and some of the world’s most capable militaries, Asia and the Pacific are increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity.”

Still, Politico thinks this week’s travel was a hard decision, claiming that the Middle East, with its wars in Syria and Yemen and the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, “keeps trying to pull Obama back.”

It cites what it calls “sort of an old saw in Washington…that the urgent usually crowds out the important,” although Jeremy Shapiro, a foreign policy specialist at the Brookings Institution argues that the “pivot” to Asia has been a very rare effort to avoid that, to say that the Middle East is “urgent, but Asia is actually important,” he says.

Politico, however, seems to think that this travel is somehow unseemly, and shows Obama as determined to push ahead with what his aides call the “rebalance.” In addition, Politico seems reluctant to note that the President actually is taking care of diplomatic business during his visit to the Philippines this week. He will attend the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group’s summit. Later, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he also will participate in the East Asia Summit and the US-ASEAN summit.

Not only that, but the current Asian trip follows a stop in Turkey for the G-20 summit where he addressed the chaos in the Middle East extensively. Still, Friday’s attacks in Paris have cast a pall over the rest of the president’s itinerary, Politico argues and cites observers who think the six-day Asia trip “doesn’t send the best signal right now.”

That argument hasn’t gained much traction in Washington, so far. For example, White House aides push back hard on the notion that the Middle East needs to take up more of the president’s time than it already does. In recent comments with reporters, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes stressed that the U.S. is a global leader, with the emphasis on global. “We have to balance very broad global interests that include the situation in Syria and counterterrorism, but, by definition as a global leader, must include the Asia Pacific,” he said.

Counterterrorism and security issues overall will likely come up in Obama’s conversations with Asian leaders, many of whom are especially concerned about Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and some of whom face Islamist militant movements of their own.

The Politico comments seem to be mainly an effort to insert drama in a situation that is already deep in geopolitical drama that needs little elaboration. In addition, they seem to ignore the modern communications capacity of the traveling White House and its staff. Of course, these are difficult political situations with all kinds of symbolism. But, suggestions that US officials need to stay closer to home to deal with the new tensions seem to belong to a much older age and probably don’t deserve as much consideration just now as Politico suggests, Washington Insider believes.

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