Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Vilsack and Rural America

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

China to Impose Duties on US Distillers' Dried Grains

China will collect provisional antidumping duties at a 33.8% rate on U.S. distillers' dried grains (DDGs) with or without solubles, starting Sept. 23, according to a statement posted on China Commerce Ministry's website.

The preliminary ruling comes after a months-long probe following complaints by China's ethanol producers that the U.S. industry was unfairly benefiting from subsidies. China did not give a timing for a final decision.

Exporters have already curbed shipments into China since the investigation started in January to avoid any retroactive penalties. Some observers noted they had feared duties would be higher, between 40% and 60%. The final ruling could show a higher duty, some reports noted.

Chinese imports of DDGs totaled 508,240 metric tons in August, down nearly 36% from a year ago while January-August imports totaled 2.4 million metric tons, down nearly 46% compared to a year ago.

China imported a record 6.8 million metric tons of DDGs in 2015, worth almost $2 billion, according to official customs data. DDGs is a by-product of corn ethanol production. China is the world's biggest buyer and almost all of its imports come from the U.S., the biggest exporter. Chinese feed mills use DDGs as a substitute for domestic corn and soybean meal in animal feed production.

China previously launched an antidumping investigation into DDGs imports from the U.S. in late 2010, later extending the probe before dropping it in mid-2012. The earlier investigation slowed China's imports of the feed ingredient but did not stop them entirely.

Authorities made an initial decision that imported U.S. DDGs has damaged China's domestic industry, the ministry said. Chinese importers will have to pay the deposit to customs, it said.

Groups Want WOTUS Court Brief Schedule Altered

The schedule for opening briefs in the challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule should be postponed until the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has decided whether to admit certain memorandums by the US Army Corps of Engineers that were critical of the way the rule was crafted, according to a motion filed by a coalition of 54 business, agriculture and manufacturing groups.

The filing, by groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Farm Bureau Federation, call on the court to extend the briefing start to 30 days after the court rules what documents are to be made part of the administrative record.

Opening briefs from states, business and municipal groups, and environmental organizations challenging the legality of the WOTUS rule are due September 30, but the court has yet to rule on the documents that were part of briefs filed July 29.

Washington Insider: Vilsack and Rural America

The Washington Post is reporting that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had become discouraged during the course of 2015 and approached President Barack Obama in the Oval Office to indicate he wanted to exit his post atop USDA.

"Mr. President," he said, "I think it's time to go." The Post noted Vilsack had been a model cabinet secretary in the nearly eight years as USDA Secretary, "a disciplined and efficient technocrat who understood the inner workings of his department, worked well with lawmakers and did not cause trouble for the White House."

"I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place," he often said, according to the Post. He even indicated to the paper that the number of consequential issues crossing his desk had dwindled. "There are days when I have literally nothing to do," he recalled thinking as he weighed his decision to quit.

But instead of taking Vilsack's request to resign, Obama instead challenged Vilsack with another task at USDA -- Obama asked him to oversee the administration's response to the opioid crisis that was ravaging rural America.

Vilsack put his energy toward the opioid crisis challenge and focused on it intently. He traveled to New England, Nevada and Appalachia, and most recently, in St. Louis, Missouri. "I am here to learn and here to listen," Vilsack told the group. "I want to make sure that when I walk out of here, I have a very good understanding of the problem."

But what probably struck Vilsack most as he confronted this new challenge is that the crisis was personal. Vilsack had spent his adult life fighting for rural America. He was also the child of an alcoholic and prescription drug addict.

Vilsack used his personal story not only to motivate those he spoke with and give them hope, but the Post noted he also "used it to make the case for the kind of help that Washington could provide: more money for doctors, drug counselors and mental-health clinics to treat those who were suffering."

So this has marked yet another political chapter for Vilsack and has shifted focus at USDA to one area where he feels there is room for successes. Indeed, the tasks of running USDA as a farm bill continues to operate, as farmers struggle with current market conditions and USDA's own budget situation remains uncertain as it does for agencies across the government, Vilsack as turned this latest challenge to his advantage, he believes.

This is just the latest chapter for a USDA Secretary that has suffered the ups and downs of running the sprawling agency that is USDA. And depending on the election results in November, we could see Tom Vilsack still serving U.S. agriculture, Washington Insider believes.

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