An interesting perspective of the exterior of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., looking from the ground up. Getty Images/Win McNamee

White House lays out trade agenda

Trade dominates this week's Legislative Watch, after President Trump follows through on the campaign promise to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and now has his eyes on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ag groups vow to work with the administration.

The White House posted President Trump’s trade policy on its website, stating “For too long, Americans have been forced to accept trade deals that put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women of this country.”

President Trump signed an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and has announced that he will begin renegotiations with Canada and Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement and has stated if they refuse the United States will withdraw from NAFTA. Trump has indicated that he would like to do a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom after it leaves the European Union.

The administration plans on greater enforcement of trade agreements. The Secretary of Commerce will be directed to identify all trade violations and to use every possible tool at the federal government’s disposal to end these abuses.

Trump pulls out of TPP

President Donald Trump officially started implementing his trade agenda in his first week in office by signing a memorandum to officially withdraw the United States from the TPP trade agreement. This fulfills one of President Trump’s main campaign themes.

A key question will be what do the other 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) do now the United States has withdrawn. Some of the countries have suggested moving forward without the United States. The Australian Minister of Trade, Steven Ciobo, says he wanted to move forward with the TPP regardless of the U.S. withdrawal and was open to China or Indonesia joining the agreement.

There are indications the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement negotiations will now increase. This free-trade agreement is between the member states of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and the six countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand) that ASEAN has existing free-trade agreements.

TPP was strongly supported by the agriculture community. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says, “Fact is American cattle producers are already losing out on $400,000 in sales every day because we don’t have TPP, and since NAFTA was implemented, exports of American-produced beef to Mexico have grown by more than 750%. We’re especially concerned that the administration is taking these actions without any meaningful alternatives in place that would compensate for the tremendous loss that cattle producers will face without TPP or NAFTA.” The American Soybean Association says, “Trade is something soybean farmers take very seriously. We export more than half the soy we grow here in the United States, and still more in the form of meat and other products that are produced with our meal and oil. The TPP held great promise for us, and has been a key priority for several years now. We’re very disappointed to see the withdrawal today.” The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated TPP would increase annual net farm income by $4.4 billion.

Ag groups willing to work with administration to improve NAFTA

A group of 133 agricultural organizations and companies have indicated they are willing to work with the Trump administration to modernize NAFTA, but they do not want to lose the benefits gained under NAFTA.

In the 20 years since NAFTA was implemented, U.S. food and agriculture exports to Canada and Mexico more than quadrupled, growing from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.6 billion in 2015. Mexico and Canada rank as the second and fourth largest export markets for U.S. pork.

The group, in a letter to President Trump, says, “… barriers still exist for U.S. exporters and we look forward to working with your administration on reducing the non-tariff trade barriers that continue to inhibit our exports to the North American marketplace, as well as to addressing the remaining tariffs impeding access for some U.S. export sectors.”

Those signing the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Pork Producers Council, National Renderers Association, North American Meat Institute and U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Trump administration freezes regulations

One of the first acts of the new administration is freezing all regulations that have not gone into effect for 60 days. This will give the administration time to review all of the last-minute rules of the Obama administration and to determine which ones they want to change, end or let continue.

This action affects the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule that the Obama administration finalized in December and is scheduled to take effect on Feb. 21. This rule is strongly opposed by the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and the North American Meat Institute. These organizations have argued that the rule was rushed through at the last minute, not taking into effect the changes the industry has endured during the last five years. Those supporting the rule including the National Farmers Union, R-CALF and American Farm Bureau have argued producers need greater protections.

Hoeven to chair Senate Ag Appropriations

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) will serve as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture. He takes the place of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) who will now serve as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction and Veteran Affairs.

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