Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Fighting the Coronavirus

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

UK Signals No Give On Food Standards In Negotiating Objectives With US

The UK said it will not temper its environmental regulations nor would it lower its food standards as part of its negotiations on a trade deal with the U.S., according to negotiating objectives it released today.

“The UK's independent food regulators will continue to ensure that all food imports into the UK comply with those high standards,” the objectives said. “Without exception, imports into the UK will meet our stringent food safety standards - all food imports into the UK must be safe and this will not change in any future agreement."

Most in the U.S. have insisted that ag issues have to be addressed in negotiations with the UK, but the negotiating objectives indicate that will be a tall ask on the part of the U.S.

USDA’s Perdue Signals Big Downturn In RFS Exemptions

While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told lawmakers last week he had no announcement to make on whether the agency would dramatically scale back its use of small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the Commodity Classic gathering the use of SREs would be declining.

“I think you see will those waivers significantly reduced,” Perdue said.

Wheeler will appear on the Hill this week and will be pressed again on the topic and perhaps even on his guidance that something would be announced by the agency “soon.”

Washington Insider: Fighting the Coronavirus

The Hill is reporting this week that lawmakers are racing to clinch a deal on emergency funding to combat the coronavirus as more cases, and the first deaths within the United States were reported over the weekend.

The Dow showed signs of life Monday although analysts said that reflected expectations regarding Fed moves to cut interest rates, rather than an end to the threat. Now, the House is expected to vote on billions in funding this week, though negotiators have not yet finalized a deal.

An important step that Congress must take is to ensure the government has the resources needed to “combat this deadly virus and keep Americans safe,” The Hill said. To that end, House appropriators are working to advance a strong emergency funding supplemental package that “fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis, which we hope to bring to the Floor next week,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a “Dear Colleague” letter over the weekend.

The administration requested $2.5 billion in funding, half of which would have been new funding, while the balance would have come from existing health programs, including $535 million from fighting Ebola.

They’re likely to get double or triple that request, The Hill said. Negotiators are looking at providing between $6 billion and $8 billion, the report said.

That’s below the $8.5 billion requested by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., but significantly more than the White House’s request — which even some Republicans characterized as too low.

Pelosi added in her statement that the funding package had to be comprised of new funding and that there must be guardrails to ensure President Trump "cannot use these new funds for anything other than fighting coronavirus and infectious diseases."

Lawmakers are hoping to have the package ready to move this week and face a tight timeline if they are going to get the bill passed by the House, Senate and to Trump’s desk before leaving for a weeklong recess on March 13.

"I hope they can work expeditiously so the full Senate would be able to take up the legislation within the next two weeks — and that as we move forward through this challenge, this body can put reflexive partisanship aside and uphold the spirit of cooperation and collaboration this will require," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week.

The press also is emphasizing the value of public information in the fight against the virus. For example, the Washington Post notes that the disease has now been detected in 40 countries—and that as the outbreak expands, most countries, including the United States “will have to switch from containment to mitigation as a priority.”

The point of mitigation, as opposed to containment, is to reduce the effect of the outbreak rather than eliminating the virus.

Protective public health tactics could include reducing mass gatherings, dismissing students from schools or closing them altogether for a while, and implementing “social distancing” measures — public health interventions with consequences for the livelihood and the well-being of the population.

Past epidemics prove fighting coronavirus with travel bans is a mistake, the Post thinks. And, while the so-called nonpharmaceutical interventions — protective public health measures that do not involve drugs or vaccines — can be helpful, effective and long-term control of this virus will probably also require mass vaccination.

For the current outbreak, at least 39 vaccine development programs are already underway, the Post says. “This early progress is due to advances in technology since previous large outbreaks.”

For example, the technology for identifying vaccine targets on the virus is more advanced than it was when SARS broke out. Because of genetic similarities between COVID-19 and SARS, as well as advances in technologies for decoding viral genetic information, scientists were able to quickly create a genetic sequence useful for developing vaccines. Similarly, technological innovations such as using “messenger” RNA as a vaccine has sped up initial development of vaccines—but production likely is still at least a year away.

Still, the biggest barrier to vaccine availability is not biological. It is the steps after a biological product is developed and tested in animals. Conducting human trials is an essential step in determining the efficacy and safety of vaccines before deploying them in the general population.

The COVID-19 outbreak already is a multi-country emergency, the Post says. CDC’s characterization that it is inevitable that the virus will spread widely in the United States may very well be true. But the impact depends on how the nation mobilizes its response.

So, we will see. Clearly the problem is far-reaching and will affect many aspects of our economic and social lives. Each step of the response will be critical and should be watched closely as the process evolves, Washington Insider believes.

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