TPA Finds Limbo

The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill narrowly passed the House Friday, garnering 219 votes, one over the minimum needed.  However, leadership had structured everything as a package, with the condition that the TPA bill would not advance to the president’s desk if an accompanying Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) did not also pass.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi threw her opposition to TAA as a last ditch effort to stop TPA.  As a result, TAA was soundly defeated, 126-302.  A related bill on customs and trade rule enforcement did also pass.

Sources in Washington indicated House leadership will bring back the TAA bill next week.



Senate Could Vote on TPA Bill Friday

The Senate voted Thursday to end debate and proceed to a vote on the Trade Promotion Authority bill and several amendments.

The Senate leadership expects to vote on the bill yet Friday or in a possible weekend session.

The vote to end debate was 62-38 and required significant deal making by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get the votes. He promised a vote next month on the Export-Import Bank. Boeing’s CEO also pushed Washington State’s Democrat Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to vote for TPA, with an eye towards eventually getting sales deals from a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty with Asian countries.

Published in: on May 22, 2015 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

House Ag Committee Passes mCOOL Repeal Bill

The House Agriculture Committee Wednesday approved H.R. 2393, a bill to amend the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946, by a recorded vote of 38-6.  This is the bill to repeal the mCOOL law for beef, pork and chicken products.

As of this writing, there is no information on when a possible floor vote on the bill is contemplated.  Thursday is the last scheduled session for the House until June 1.

The Senate has not taken any action on a repeal bill.  The Senate Agriculture Committee has a business meeting scheduled for Thursday morning but has not indicated an mCOOL bill will be discussed or voted upon.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has indicated support for repealing the mCOOL law.  However, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mi.) has issued a statement supporting the law, on the basis of consumer right-to-know theory.  As former chairman of the committee, she had pledged support of mCOOL repeal and then flip-flopped over a winter weekend with no explanation for those to whom she had indicated support.  Stabenow did not make any comment regarding her constituents who would have companies damaged and jobs hurt by retaliation over retaining the protectionist law.

WTO Issues Final Ruling, Shoots Down U.S. mCOOL Law

As expected by most observers, the WTO’s Appellate body again ruled Monday against the U.S. mCOOL rule. As USDA has already made it clear they have been unable to find any way to comply with both the U.S. law and WTO rules — something we said from the beginning of the COOL movement — the ruling puts a solution in Congress’ court.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) understands the urgency of Congress acting swiftly. He has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday and is asking for input from his committee members during a Wednesday business meeting.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Assn. has encouraged the Government of Canada to move without delay to request WTO authorization for retaliatory tariffs. That authorization could come later this summer, with tariffs totaling some $2 billion/year and affecting hundreds of U.S. products across dozens of industries.

Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 2:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Senate Acts on Trade Bills

Our apologies for not posting to this blog for awhile…but it seems so many issues are so complex and lengthy, short blog posts are tough to do.

However, there is important breaking news today.  To wit:

Similar to the outlines of a deal we mentioned Tuesday night, the Senate has negotiated a way to get enough Democrats happy to get trade bills moving again, after Tuesday’s failed cloture vote.

The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, coupled with the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, advanced to floor debate, with a 65-33 vote.  The customs enforcement bill, with currency manipulation language intact, was brought to a vote, as part of the negotiating to advance TPA.  The customs bill passed 78-20.  Its final fate is uncertain, given that the White House opposes it and the House Ways and Means Committee has reported out a very different bill.

The TPA bill is slated to begin floor debate next week.  The House is expected to take up the bill next month.

Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

D.C. District Court Denies Preliminary Injunction on mCOOL

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has denied a request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the new mCOOL regulations made final last spring.  AMI, NCBA, North American Meat Association, Canadian Cattlemen’s Assn., Canadian and American pork councils, Mexican cattlemen, American Association of Meat Processors and Southwest Meat Association had filed the suit.

AMI’s President J. Patrick Boyle has indicated an appeal will be made.  The complaint had pressed the case that the requirements of the augmented new regulations exceeds the authority granted in the statute.

Opponents of the new regulations have argued that the excessive costs and disruption of trade far exceeds the minimal informational benefits to consumers.  Research has shown very few consumers consider origin in making meat purchases, while quality, taste, safety and cost are the main drivers.  Origin does not affect safety, as health and safety standards have been in place for decades.  But full implementation of these regulations would both drive costs up and likely destroy much of the meat trade between North American nations.

U.S. packers already running well under capacity because of low cattle numbers, would further see operating margins deteriorate, with some border region packers possibly forced out of business by a critical shortage of cattle from both sides of the border.  The extensive segregation, tracking and recordkeeping requirements and the elimination of the commingling provision would likely mean the major packers would stop buying any but U.S. livestock.  Of course, that is the real reason some radical livestock and farm groups favor a strict mCOOL law.  They oppose trade with other nations in meat or livestock.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

U.S. Government Continues Its War on Beef Industry Trade

Like a bunch of lawyers rejiggering rules for Monopoly with total disregard for real world impacts on real businesses, at first glance it looks like the U.S. government’s response to the WTO ruling on mCOOL is just a costly farce.  Rather than fix or remove the legislation that was declared illegal under the WTO rules and which we warned was expensive, onerous, unnecessary, little wanted by consumers and truly a trade barrier damaging to American consumers, the government is playing with the rules on our side of the border.  The proposed rules would ram more segregation, more labeling, more expense and more confusion on American meat producers and consumers.

More details later but it appears at first glance like the government has taken a bad situation and figured out how to make it worse.

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Japan’s Process for Changing Beef Rules Is Grinding On

While both the USMEF and NCBA have said encouraging things this year regarding the possibility of Japan’s beef import regulations joining the international standard of cattle up to 30 months of age, published reports from Japan today indicated official progress.

The wheels of progress grind exceedingly slow, however.  Last December, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Japan requested an assessment of imported beef safety and proposed raising the age limit from 20 to 30 months, according to The Japan Times (“Beef Import Rules May Be Eased Next Year,” Sept. 5, 2012.)  Since that time, a 13-member panel of experts — part of the Food Safety Commission — has been studying the issue.  They have “agreed to compile a report that would allow the regulations” to be amended.

The Food Safety Commission will “canvass public opinions” regarding the proposal for about a month before officially reporting recommendations to the Health, Labor and
Welfare Ministry.  No one has yet commented on the tenor of expected public comment.

It is uncertain exactly when the new rules would go into effect.  The Japan Times estimated early next year, while an AP story indicated late in 2012 is possible.  The rule adjustments would affect beef from the U.S., Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Free Trade Agreements on Cusp?

After five frustrating years of waiting and delays, the White House and Congressional leaders have reportedly worked out an agreement that would have the White House sending the three Free Trade Agreements (FTA) to Congress any day now.

A compromise deal on voting on the three FTAs and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program one after the other has apparently been thrashed out.  The Wall Street Journal reported House Speaker John Boehner wanted to move the three FTAs and the TAA bill in tandem through the House (“Disputed Trade Pacts Advance,” 10/03/11.)  The Senate has already passed a compromise version of the TAA, with fewer weeks of unemployment compensation and a lower percentage of health care deductability.  Under the deal worked out, the House would vote separately on the three FTAs and the TAA and then send the FTAs to the Senate.

The Democrats want separate votes on each of the three FTAs so that more of them can vote against the deals with Panama and Colombia, as union opposition to those deals is stronger.  Union opposition, of course, is primarily what has stalled the FTAs since the Bush Administration negotiated them five years ago.  The Democratic Senate and House refused to consider the agreements then, and President Obama refused to sign them after his election.  In fact, he insisted on re-negotiating them with the three countries, adding things union backers wanted into the agreements.

The deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO Thea Lee called the FTAs even with these changes “bad agreements,” according to the Journal.

But as even President Obama publicly acknowledged that the agreements would generate economic revenue and jobs and his re-election chances dimmed under weak economic growth and high unemployment, movement on the pacts renewed.  In the meantime, new trade pacts between the EU and South Korea and between Canada and Colombia took effect over the summer, further putting American companies at competitive disadvantages.

Once the president actually sends the FTAs to Congress, it has 90 days to vote on them.  But with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak coming for a state visit Oct. 13, there is incentive to get a vote accomplished by then.  The House has agreed to hustle up hearings on the bills straight away in order to speed the process up.

The FTAs are estimated to be worth $13 billion in trade annually and generate hundreds of thousands of jobs.  With agricultural commodities, machinery and chemicals as well as financial services, legal and health care industries and the auto industry set to benefit from the FTAs, it is a measure of the labor unions sway in Washington that the Journal reports these deals as “controversial.”  We haven’t seen any projections as to how the voting will go but we hope that the crying need for growth and jobs obvious even to the most hardened Democratic Congressional members, will motivate them to vote for the long-awaited FTAs to increase the chances of saving their own skin.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Hopes for Improved Japanese Access Dashed Again

Hopes for negotiating changes to the beef trading rules with Japan were dealt yet another setback Friday, as the Japanese prime minister indicated he will step down as party leader and, therefore, prime minister.  The U.S. beef industry had hoped that the 20-month rule could soon be negotiated to a near world-standard beef from 30-month-old animals, based on science regarding BSE.

 But political turmoil in Japan has now yielded six prime ministers in five years and even more agricultural ministers.  Even an aggressive effort by U.S. negotiators would have been hard pressed to deal with such constant change, much less an Obama administration that can’t even figure out who’s on first with the free trade agreements (FTA) already negotiated and ready for the President’s signature.  Last week two administration officials blamed the FTA’s delay on Congress, when the documents have languished on the president’s desk since inauguration.

 The Japanese Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will vote on a new party leader Monday and, most likely, a new prime minister will be confirmed Tuesday by the Japanese parliament, according to the Wall Street Journal (“Japan’s Kan Steps Down as Party Chief,” Sat./Sun 8/27-28/11).  Prime Minister Kan, who has held the office for 14 months, has been attacked on all sides for his handling of the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster and confessed in his final speech that he knew his talents were unequal to the task of leadership during the nuclear crisis.  He got off to a rocky start to his term by proposing an increase in the consumption tax to pare down debt, a politically unpopular move.

 Five different men are expected to declare their candidacy for the prime minister’s post, so prognosticating on beef industry negotiating chances would be difficult now.  Paradoxically, one of the problems that beset Prime Minister Kan is being soft-pedaled by the candidates jockeying for position this weekend, the Journal said.  In a nation with few other means of generating electrical power, many Japanese citizens have turned against nuclear power since the disaster and a number of plants around the country have still not been restarted, starving industry for power.

 While U.S. beef exports to Japan have been steadily growing, they are still far below 2003 levels before the BSE scare and trade is hampered by the 20-month rule.  Packers can only ship beef from 20-month or younger cattle and, therefore, have to source and verify eligible animals for the Japanese trade.  That means many animals cannot be identified as eligible.

 Ironically, this writer thought eligibility for the lucrative Japanese market would be the incentive that would finally push many producers into the extra effort to individually identify and tag animals and keep the necessary records to qualify for Japan.  While some have made some extra money that way, many producers still view individual ID and traceability  — and the connected premiums  —  as something they are too busy to deal with.

 Meanwhile, the political revolving door whirls in Japan.

Published in: on August 27, 2011 at 6:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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