Washington Insider -- Friday

Auto Trade Concerns Intensify

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

USDA, FDA Would Report Plan to Regulate Cell-Based Meat This Spring

Lawmakers are looking to set a tight deadline for FDA and USDA to hash out a formal strategy for joint regulation of cell-cultured meats, a move likely driven by an anxious meat industry eager to hand USDA the lead.

Under a provision attached to the bipartisan spending bill compromise that House and Senate appropriators released late Wednesday (Feb. 14), the two agencies could be looking at a mid-April deadline for outlining a formal plan for regulating cell-cultured meat.

The language, which appears in an explanatory statement attached to the compromise funding bill (H.J. Res.31), would give the two agencies 60 days after the bill is enacted to develop a formal agreement “delineating the responsibilities of the two agencies for the regulation of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”

“Such agreement shall be made public on the USDA and FDA websites within one day of the completion of the agreement,” the language states.

The latest compromise language signals that lawmakers intend to ensure that the two agencies do not linger in their commitment to quickly hash out the details on their joint plan for regulating cell-based meat.

“This language was driven by those in Congress who supported USDA having sole authority over these products,” said Brian Ronholm, a former USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, who is now senior director for regulatory policy at Arent Fox. “They are eager to see how a detailed formal agreement will protect USDA jurisdiction, and the deadline is included to ensure that discussions between the two agencies do not languish.”

OIE Reports Global Progress on Antimicrobial Use

A new report by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) shows there has been global progress on the regulation and monitoring of antimicrobial use in animals.

OIE shows there has been global progress on the regulation and monitoring of antimicrobial use in animals.

The report is based on a voluntary data collection system – developed by the OIE – on the use of antimicrobial agents in animals, which any country can contribute to. The latest report presents findings from global and regional analysis from 2015 to 2017. A record 155 countries participated – something the OIE noted demonstrates an increased international understanding and prioritization of the issue.

Findings show the reported use of antimicrobials for growth promotion has declined from 60 to 45 countries since the last round of data collection. The remaining 110 did not use any antimicrobial agents for growth promotion in animals in their countries, with or without legislation or regulations.

Of the 45 countries that reported the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters, 27 said they do not have a regulatory framework.

Despite general progress on responsible use, key antimicrobials that are classified by the WHO as 'Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials' – including colistin, a 'last resort' antibiotic – continue to be routinely used in several regions for growth promotion.

Fri. Feb. 15 Washington Insider: Auto Trade Concerns Intensify

There seems to be an unusual amount of confusion as the trade policy talks between the U.S. and China get underway in earnest—especially about what comes next.

For example, Bloomberg says Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is about to deliver results of an auto-imports probe to president.

It notes that “no American industry is lobbying hard for them. Most economists think they’re a bad idea. Even some trade hawks in President Trump’s administration see them as a roadblock in his overhaul of the global trading system.”

However, the administration also has argued that trends toward a global automotive industry represent “a threat to national security.” Thus, Secretary Ross can recommend options for the president, potentially leading to levies of as much 25% on imported vehicles and parts.

“You cannot find a corner of this industry that thinks this is a good idea,” said John Bozzella, president of the Association of Global Automakers, the main group for overseas-based carmakers lobbying against new tariffs.

The automakers’ opposition stands in stark contrast with American steel producers and steelworker unions, whose calls for trade protections led to new levies on imports of the metals last year under the same trade powers Trump is using to examine autos, Bloomberg says.

In fact, automakers, parts suppliers and economists predict dire consequences for the U.S. economy, in part because of the industry’s massive reach.

The auto industry makes up about 8% of global trade, compared with the slightly more than 3% represented by the bilateral trade between the U.S. and China, according to the WTO. The U.S. imported more than $191 billion in passenger cars and light trucks in 2017, the last full year of data available, and exported $56.9 billion worth. It imported almost $149 billion in parts and had exports valued at $86.6 billion.

Proponents within the administration see tariffs as a way to force repatriation of supply chains and re-shoring of the parts manufacturing they argue has left the U.S. too dependent on countries such as China for key components.

That, they contend, is particularly important when it comes to nurturing emerging technologies such as electric vehicles that it’s already been protected aggressively. Among the first wave of tariffs imposed on China last year were 25% duties on electric cars and buses, plus motors and other parts.

But proposals for auto industry tariffs also face internal opposition within the Trump administration. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been trying to delay a decision, arguing that rolling out the tariffs would scupper his attempt to close trade deals with the European Union and Japan.

Economists argue that rather than strengthen the U.S. industry, tariffs would simply raise the cost of production and, in the long term, may push domestic carmakers to shift even more production offshore.

A 2018 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that global retaliatory tariffs in response to a new 25% U.S. levy on autos and parts from all countries including Canada and Mexico would cause a bigger fall in U.S. exports than imports, reduce domestic production by almost 4% and lead to 624,000 U.S. job losses.

That’s in part because the auto parts business is increasingly global with most vehicles produced in the U.S. assembled from components sourced from around the world.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Tesla Inc. and Honda Motor Co. each imported less than 10 percent of the vehicles they sold in the U.S. last year from outside North America. They would suffer the least from vehicle tariffs and could be in a position to benefit from their rivals’ pain.

Still, the companies argue against steep levies, warning they would ravage U.S. payrolls, stifle domestic investment and raise new-car prices. “There would be no winners,” said Matt Blunt, president of the Washington-based American Automotive Policy Council, which lobbies on behalf of GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

Trade used to be one of the few areas where the Detroit Three saw eye-to-eye with big labor. Today, the issue separates them.

The United Auto Workers, which represents nearly a half-million members in the U.S., stands out as one of the few groups that has signaled any degree of support for the Commerce Department’s investigation, calling it “long overdue.”

Aside from the economics, it’s a tough call for the administration politically. David Britt, chairman of the economic development committee for Spartanburg County Council in South Carolina, says he voted for Trump. But he’s pleaded with the president in a letter and through Senate testimony not to proceed with the tariffs.

For example, Bloomberg says that BMW may shift production to China from the U.S. as the trade war bites. It says that Spartanburg, South Carolina, is home to a BMW plant that employs 10,000 workers and has suppliers with about 70,000 workers across the state, Britt said. “I’m hoping and praying he will listen,” he said of Trump.

It seems clear that pressure on the administration to explain its willingness to impose restrictions that threaten long standing and valuable U.S. markets is growing—and that Congress is edging closer to increasing its interventions in such matters. Certainly, these are fights producers should watch closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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