Washington Insider -- Monday

FDA vs USDA on Codex Office Move

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

Wheat Groups Chide Focus on Renegotiating Existing Trade Deals

The Trump administration needs to shift from its focus on renegotiating existing trade deals to inking new ones, according to U.S. wheat organizations.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) needs to "pivot away" from renegotiation to inking new trade deals, something repeatedly promised by candidate and now President Donald Trump, according to a joint statement issued by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG).

While not objecting "in principle" to updating NAFTA, the groups pointed out the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is barely one-quarter through full implementation, the groups noted. They also weighed against pulling out of the trade deal as was threatened by Trump recently.

“While we disagreed, the President made clear that he did not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We were promised a series of bilateral trade agreements in its place,” said NAWG CEO Chandler Goule. “USTR has limited resources — it is time to get past plowing the same fields and start opening ground in new markets. Right now, we are standing around watching the world pass us by on trade agreements.”

Northey, Ibach Sail through Confirmation Hearing for USDA Posts

Bill Northey and Greg Ibach are set to take their new positions at USDA later this month after the two had an uneventful confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Ag Committee.

The two fielded few questions from lawmakers on the panel – questions were posed by just six of the panel’s 21 members.

Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he is planning to hold a markup shortly after the upper chamber returns from recess the week of Oct. 16, with the goal of getting both nominees to the floor without delay. Northey is the nominee to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation; Ibach is the nominee to be undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

Washington Insider: FDA vs USDA on Codex Office Move

Bloomberg is reporting this week that there is an intra-administration dustup now regarding USDA’s decision to relocate the U.S. Codex Alimentarius office – an interagency partnership that engages stakeholders in the development and advancement of science-based international food safety standards. It is currently housed within the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) but USDA is now planning to move it to the newly developed Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (TFAA) office.

One result of USDA’s proposal is an unusually public feud between executive branch agencies, Bloomberg says.

Perdue had announced a realignment of several USDA agencies in early September and number of agribusiness companies filed a joint letter in support of the move at that time, saying it would elevate the visibility and “strategic impact of U.S. Codex engagement and strengthen U.S. leadership in Codex to advance science-based global standards,” Bloomberg said.

FDA does not agree, and in mid-September it wrote USDA to complain that that it sees the move as an opportunity for the TFAA office, which is not science-oriented, to undermine the credibility of Codex and build a perception that the U.S. cares more about advancing trade than about public health.

Secretary Perdue is not pleased by FDA’s letter nor its position and said last week that “if he had had the chance he would have explained to the FDA what the USDA's purpose and mission were going into this decision.”

The FDA letter lays out the strong relationship the FDA and the Codex office have had since the 1960s and the need for it to “stay in a science-based office.” The letter also suggests that this is not exactly a new fight, and refers to a fiscal year 2015 panel assigned by Congress to assess USDA reorganization, which had opposed moving the Codex office.

“The strength of the U.S. Codex efforts rests on its scientific efforts,” the letter said. “FDA is highly concerned that this would compromise the effectiveness of U.S. delegates who participate in Codex, a majority of whom are from FDA.”

Bloomberg also notes that Perdue criticized the agency saying if the FDA made an intra-agency move he didn’t like, he wouldn't “write the press and complain about it. I'd expect that same courtesy and I can assure you we'll have those kinds of conversations,” he said.

An FDA spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA, last week that “at the request of USDA, the FDA has provided comments and feedback via their public docket about the proposal to move the U.S. Codex office. The agency looks forward to working with USDA on this topic and “will continue to engage with the USDA on this important matter.”

Other observers have also expressed opinions about USDA’s proposed shift of the Codex office, as you might expect. Food Safety News carried a letter recently from Dr. Richard Raymond who was formerly USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety from 2005-2009 who thinks the shift may not be “such a good thing.”

The Codex is, Raymond says, “a pretty big deal.”

Part of his concern is the current nominee to head the office, who Raymond says he knows and thinks is a “good man, but he is not all about public health; he is about marketing agricultural products, and was formerly head of that post in the State of Indiana.”

Raymond asks whether we are emphasizing trade goals over food safety, and clearly thinks that is the case. He also sees that view confirmed by the lack of an Undersecretary for food safety who might have advised against this move – and even campaigned in the halls of Congress to maintain the status quo, a status that had very high international respect.

Well, we will see how this fight turns out. It clearly is deeper than the Secretary suggests and is unlikely to be explained away by a review of recent history. USDA has a strong reputation for science, including food safety that Secretary Perdue will want to defend and enhance. Still, the role of the Codex office is important to both U.S. trade and the department’s credibility, suggesting that FDA’s comments need to be taken seriously.

So, this is an important dispute and should be watched closely by producers as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

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