Washington Insider -- Tuesday

US-China Trade Talks Front and Center

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

More H-2B Visas Issued

The Department of Homeland Security is allocating an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for foreign seasonal workers, the agency announced Friday, granting some relief to businesses and tourist destinations that cannot find enough Americans to cook and clean, and fill other low-wage jobs during the summer season.

Access to foreign labor has become a major issue for seasonal businesses that have for years struggled with severe worker shortages.

Even with the additional visas announced Friday, employers say there will not be enough to go around and predict they will again begin the high season shorthanded.

The new visas, besides the 33,000 already issued for jobs beginning April 1, will be available only to returning H-2B workers who have worked in the U.S. in the past three years. The agency has not said when employers can begin applying for them.

FDA's Gottlieb Exiting Government This Week

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will leave his post atop the agency Friday after serving for two years in the spot. Under his watch, he focused on several issues and leaves and imprint on the agency.

Gottlieb has changed the reporting structure within the agency, by having heads of agencies within FDA report to the Commissioner, not to lower-level officials. Gottlieb said that was to "not only advance policy but to maintain perspective on what was going on and help the centers solve their problems.”

Gottlieb has also had to field issues such as the rise in CBD products and for U.S. ag interests in particular, addressing questions on the terminology for plant-based "dairy" products and cell-based meat.

Washington Insider: US-China Trade Talks Front and Center

Bloomberg is reporting this week that the U.S.-China talks will take center stage now once China’s Vice Premier Liu He arrives in Washington. These are very high-level negotiations, Bloomberg says, and will involve U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin as well as Congressional representatives and top Chinese officials.

Liu’s trip will be part of the countries’ efforts to build on progress toward ending their nearly year-long trade war. The vice premier will be leading a delegation for meetings beginning on April 3, the White House said.

The visit follows the late March meetings in Beijing where U.S. and Chinese negotiators met to lay the groundwork for the talks—and a possible deal. Still, Bloomberg says “U.S. lawmakers—particularly Republicans—and industry representatives are increasingly nervous about the economic impact of tariffs that the two countries have imposed on each other,” and are increasingly aware of the high stakes involved in these upcoming talks.

As a result, Bloomberg cites well-informed observers who say the situation presents a unique opportunity to extract long-sought concessions from China on issues such as improving treatment of U.S. intellectual property and opening up market access for American companies. As part of the effort, the U.S. is pushing for an “enforcement mechanism” to hold China accountable to its promises.

“How you structure that is the key,” Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., co-chair of the congressional U.S.-China Working Group told Bloomberg. It’s a big part of what Liu and Lighthizer are going to have to nail down in coming days, he said.

Meanwhile, as the U.S.-China negotiations intensify, AFL-CIO President Trumka scheduled a morning briefing in Washington this week to address questions regarding the labor movement’s opposition to the current version of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. He was expected to focus directly on the federation’s criticisms of the deal, the AFL-CIO said.

And, as part of the administration’s push for approval of the new pact, USTR Lighthizer also is traveling to Capitol Hill this week to meet with new members of the House to build congressional support for its trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Bloomberg says that “the USMCA faces an uphill climb in the House, where Democrats have voiced concerns about labor and environmental enforcement and provisions for cutting edge biologic drugs.”

“For many new members of Congress, the vote on USMCA will be their first trade vote and some have said very little on the record about trade,” National Foreign Trade Council Vice President Investment Vanessa Sciarra said. “Educating them and their staff members will be a vital step in moving towards passage of USMCA.”

Amid all the speculation about the U.S.-China talks and the USMCA approval fight in Washington, trade officials and executives from Alphabet Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. will descend on Geneva this week for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development annual e-commerce meetings, Bloomberg says.

The event comes two months after a group of World Trade Organization members—including the U.S., European Union, and China—launched negotiations aimed at forging new rules to cover the $25 trillion e-commerce market.

Separately, without a great deal of fanfare, WTO delegates plan to hold a week-long working group meeting aimed at breaking new ground in the WTO’s deadlocked agriculture negotiations.

Trade issues are emerging from many directions just now and are assuming greatly enhanced importance in early debates about the 2020 races. From now until that vote, almost everything will be increasingly political and trade and other economic policies are no exception, and will lead to increasingly fierce debates that should be watched closely by producers as they intensify, Washington Insider believes.

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