Washington Insider-- Thursday

GOP Ag Policy Committee

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

Sen. Toomey Rejects TPP

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in a tight reelection campaign, has rejected the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord, citing inadequate provisions for drug companies and dairy farmers. He said Congress should “dump” TPP, which President Barack Obama hopes to submit to Congress after the November elections.

A previously strong proponent of trade deals, this year’s elections for president and senators have seen the TPP a focus of those who previously have opposed trade accords, including both presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

President Barack Obama had been counting on garnering enough Republicans for most votes needed to pass the TPP. But in recent weeks the Republican and Democratic political conventions showcased deep mistrust of trade agreements in both parties’ bases.

Toomey said the TPP does not do enough to open up new markets in Japan and Canada for American dairy products, compared with the access the deal would grant to New Zealand farmers eyeing milk exports to the U.S. He also indicated the TPP’s current compromise on the intellectual-property rights for drug makers does not give enough support to American pharmaceutical manufacturers, an issue that has prevented major business groups from endorsing the deal so far.

“We should dump the TPP and return to the negotiating table to get an agreement that would create jobs and economic growth here at home,” Toomey said in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We should not pass a flawed deal just to get a deal done.”

Toomey is in a tight reelection battle with Democrat Katie McGinty, who also opposes the TPP, and in a state that is also a battleground in the presidential contest.

Grassley Urges More Scrutiny Over Ag Mergers

The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department need to better cooperate when overseeing mergers in the seed and chemical industry, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a letter to officials at both agencies.

The Justice Department is currently reviewing a proposed merger between Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co., while the Federal Trade Commission is set to review the acquisition of Syngenta AG by China National Chemical Corporation.

Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the recent deals could impact US food security and competition.

“Because these transactions involve the same underlying market, I urge that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission work together, as appropriate, in their analysis of the state of the agricultural biotechnology and seed industry, so as to ensure that the multiple proposed transactions under consideration do not substantially lessen competition and aggravate an already concentrated industry,” Grassley said in the letter.

Washington Insider GOP Ag Policy Committee

The Washington Post, among other media, is reporting that the Republican campaign has named an agriculture advisory committee that includes a number of Midwestern luminaries. The campaign had been under some pressure recently for not focusing more on so-called ag and rural issues.

The Post says that the 64-person committee will meet regularly and advise the GOP presidential nominee on food production issues. The committee includes many politicians and governors, including Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota. Former governors and presidential candidates Rick Perry of Texas and Jim Gilmore of Virginia are also on the committee, the Post says.

However, the Post focused quickly on the difficulty the campaign may have with the group on several key issues including trade—a problem Democrats have with supporters who do not oppose trade as much as the candidate does.

The paper also says several of the committee members “seem to be opposed to Trump's calls for mass deportation” and some have “strongly supported the comprehensive immigration reform package passed by the Senate in 2013,” a bill Trump criticized strongly.

"When politicians talk about 'immigration reform' they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders," Trump's website says about the bill. "The Schumer-Rubio immigration bill was nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties."

Politico also discusses the committee, and calls it a Who’s Who of farm policy, with five members of Congress, including the chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees, 10 current and former farm-state governors and two former GOP presidential nomination rivals, former Govs. Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore.

It calls the committee is “an astoundingly mainstream roster for a candidate who seized the nomination on a wave of anti-establishment fury, splintering the party along the way.”

Falls City, Nebraska businessman Charles Herbster will serve as the committee's national chairman. Herbster laid the groundwork to run for Nebraska governor in 2014 but eventually declined to enter the race because his wife was recuperating from heart surgery.

The group is “six times larger than Mitt Romney’s 2012 panel.” While the farmers and agribusiness executives on the list all have given to political campaigns in the past, none had contributed to Trump’s official campaign as of the end of June, Politico says. The fact that so many of Trump’s advisers are establishment lawmakers drew criticism from Hillary Clinton supporters.

“For a guy who doesn’t like politicians, he is sure surrounding himself with them,” said Trevor Dean, an organizer with Rural for Hillary, an outside group that’s drumming up support for Clinton in rural communities. Dean, who has a volunteer policy role with the Clinton campaign, was quick to point out that his candidate has released a detailed policy platform on rural issues and Trump has not.

What role the rural council will play in the Trump campaign or transition planning remains unclear. The group held its first meeting Tuesday morning with a conference call after nearly a month of building a list of participants and hasn’t released a policy platform.

The Tuesday call covered immigration, but also infrastructure and trade issues, said Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the former head of global corporate affairs for Elanco Animal Health. “There was a lot of input on policy.” McKinney said.

Herbster has said the council will focus on fundraising and mobilizing rural voters, though policy will play a part as well.

The Post interviewed Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers about the group. He said that earlier this year, he had spent 15 to 20 minutes talking with Trump about the need to overhaul immigration laws in a way that protects farm workers already in the U.S., while ensuring employers can reliably hire new workers, since U.S. agribusinesses face major labor shortages.

Trump said he understood the complexity of the issue, and asked Nassif to sit down with Stephen Miller, one of his policy advisers. “From my perspective, the reason to be on the advisory committee is so I can give advice and influence policy,” Nassif said, adding that he hopes that’s Trump’s intention for the council.

Nassif, like most agriculture leaders, is a strong supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which puts him at odds with the Republican nominee on one of the campaign’s biggest issues, Politico says. Nassif said he briefed Trump on the trade deal’s benefits for agriculture producers, who would gain expanded access to markets in Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia, among others.

While Trump made no promises, Nassif said his selection of agricultural advisers with positions not entirely in sync with his own indicates he has a serious interest in the well-being of US agriculture.

So, it will be interesting to see what role the committee ends up playing in the campaign. While these vary widely among campaigns, by this point in the race, most policy positions are firm and so flexible, scholarly debate seems unlikely to have much effect. Still, the campaign’s positions on trade and immigration are important to producers, and the ongoing debates on the issues overall should be watched closely as they proceed, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

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