Washington Insider-- Thursday

USMCA Sessions End With No Major Breakthroughs

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

House Ag Chair Working On Disaster Aid Fund at USDA

The U.S. government needs to be able to respond more quickly to natural disasters that affect agriculture that accompany climate change, House Agriculture chairman David Scott, D-Ga., remarked during a "member day" hearing the panel held Tuesday.

"Many of our farms are done away with because we move too slow" in drafting and passing relief bills, he said. "We are working on a bill to set up a permanent disaster aid that is already there, that we can get help down to our farmers."

Scott noted the possibility of such a fund at USDA after another lawmaker on the panel said he wanted to get losses for 2020 included in the Wildfires and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus).

"Just let me tell you, this is an issue we are grappling with on the committee … disaster aid is so critical," said Scott. "I'm trying to put together an effort to create a separate immediate disaster aid fund, so it doesn't have to go the regular appropriations process (which) takes too long." He added that "this climate is really causing us to come up to our challenges."

However, it is not clear yet how any permanent disaster fund would impact the crop insurance program.

Lawmakers Introduce Plans To Block Administration's 30x30 Plan

Sens. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have introduced the 30x30 Termination Act, a measure aimed at blocking the Biden administration's 30x30 plan that would seek to conserve 30% of land and water by 2030.

Under the Biden administration's 30x30 plan, America the Beautiful, the program stresses voluntary conservation and expansion of USDA's conservation programs. Republicans, however, have portrayed the plan as an attempt to force conservation measures onto private landowners.

The legislation prevents a number of actions on public and private land in the name of conservation, according to Marshall's office. "Land ownership is a core right protected by the Constitution and we cannot allow radical environmentalists who are in the driver's seat on 30x30 dictate what happens on our land. This initiative is further proof of the clear disconnect between the left and those who feed, fuel, and clothe the world," said Marshall.

The measure would nullify the executive order being used to put the 30x30 initiative in place and blocks any funds from being spent to carry out the initiative among other provisions.

Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., has introduced companion legislation in the House.

Washington Insider: USMCA Sessions End With No Major Breakthroughs

The first meeting of the Free Trade Commission (FTC), a panel established under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is now history, taking place the first two days of this week.

The first day saw U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai meet one-on-one with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng and separately with Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier. Those discussions saw Tai raise several issues, but the readouts from the parties involved did not signal any new or major breakthroughs were scored.

Tuesday saw the three trade chiefs meet together and get presentations from various working group committees that were established under USMCA. Those panels provided various updates on issues and developments they were responsible for.

One of the concrete developments that emerged came from the panel that met on small and medium-sized enterprises. That resulted in the setting up a session October 13-14 in San Antonio, Texas, for a "dialogue" on issues for those businesses. So that is at least a positive.

The joint statement released by the three countries was long on the usual phrases that mark these kinds of meetings -- the talks were labeled "robust" and the three held discussions in which they said they would "recommit to fully implementing, enforcing, and fulfilling the Agreement's terms and high standards throughout the life of the USMCA."

On issues of labor and environment, ones where Tai was expected to push her counterparts to think about putting a climate change component into the deal, those talks were termed "robust, forward-looking discussions." But again, that offers little in terms of substance regarding how the Canadians or Mexicans received what Tai was expected to bring up.

Reports also indicate Mexico raised matters on automotive content rules under USMCA and Mexico called on the U.S. to review its ground transportation rules that provide Mexican truckers access to the U.S. market. The U.S. raised labor issues during sessions, noting that recent matters raised by both the U.S. and Mexico show "how well this can be used by both countries."

On key ag trade topics, there was also little signs there was progress made. The U.S. filed a case late in the Trump administration which charged Canada was not fulfilling its commitments on implementing import quotas for dairy. Tai acknowledged that case in testimony last week before the U.S. Congress, but it's not clear any headway was made -- Ng related she signaled Canada believes it is implementing the provisions in USMCA when it comes to dairy.

As for issues such as Mexico's policies on glyphosate and GMO corn, reports indicate that Mexico's economy ministry the country "reiterated its commitment to ensure compliance with the obligations assumed in the chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, as well as to promptly address any problems or concerns that may arise."

There also appears to be a difference of opinion between the U.S. and Canada on the issue of softwood lumber, another long-running dispute between the two that has seen the U.S. impose duties on imports of softwood lumber from Canada. Reports said that Ng she pressed the U.S. on its "unwarranted and unfair" tariffs on imports from Canada and the country would defend the sector and also sought to reach some kind of agreement. Interestingly, Tai told U.S. lawmakers last week that she, too, wanted to find some kind of agreement with Canada, but our neighbors to the north were not interested in negotiating.

To be fair, the first meetings involving all three trade chiefs from the three countries should not have been expected to have all of the issues raised by each country resolved. That would have been a major development. But a session like this was more than likely used by each official as a way to "test the waters" and get a read on the official that will be on the other side of the table when it comes to really negotiating on these issues. That's when the statements of "robust" or "productive" talks could take on additional meaning.

For example, an agreement suddenly on something like softwood lumber would have been shock since that dispute has been around for a long, long time.

Keep in mind, this was also the first FTC meeting ever. So all three officials were probably feeling their way a bit relative to what they could -- or perhaps more importantly, couldn't do.

So we will see. The trade issues that existed before the meeting are still there. And it appears there was little ground given by any of the officials. That means these will remain issues to be dealt with along with others that could also come to light in coming weeks and months. So these are clearly matters that farmers need to monitor closely, especially ones that deal with dairy, GMOs and glyphosate, Washington Insider believes.

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