The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are urging U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to insist that Russia meet a high standard. This focus is intended to promote U.S. jobs and ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses and workers in the negotiations for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the leaders raised these areas of concern:
• Russia's protection of intellectual property rights, which are critical to U.S. industry and jobs;
• Recent reports questioning Russia's commitment to join the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), one of the most successful WTO agreements that provides duty-free treatment to a vast array of information and communications technology (ICT) products, with tremendous benefits to the innovative U.S. high technology sector, as well as the many U.S. industries that use ICT to enhance their productivity and competitiveness at home and abroad;
• Russia's actions blocking market access for U.S. agricultural products through unscientific health and safety requirements; and
• Russia's auto investment regime's impact on U.S. autos and auto parts companies and their workers.
Regarding Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues, the members wrote, "We must also emphasize the importance of ensuring that Russia is prepared and willing to comply with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary agreement. Russia's track record in this area has not been good. It has blocked market access for certain U.S. agricultural products through unscientific health and safety requirements and it has provided little or no guidance about how to comply with these requirements. Russia's actions have directly blocked U.S. exports and created significant uncertainty for U.S. exporters." Russia's SPS requirements have been a major issue over the years for the U.S. pork and poultry industries. The letter was signed by Congressmen Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sandy Levin (R-MI), ranking member, and Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Orin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member.
Portions of GIPSA Rule Sent for Review — USDA has forwarded modified sections of the proposed Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyard Act (GIPSA) rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its review. The modified proposed GIPSA rule has been split into two parts. The first is a proposed final rule that includes various provisions contained in the 2008 Farm Bill (arbitration, notice of contract termination, capital investments and breach of contract). The second is an interim final rule on poultry tournament systems, which will be open to the public for additional comments. Several provisions from the original proposal are no longer being considered, including the section on packer-to-packer sales and the packer buyers and records retention section. The remaining provisions from the June 22, 2010 proposed rule remain under consideration. OMB has 45 days to consider the proposed final rule and the interim final rule.
Senate Passes Agriculture Appropriations — The Senate passed the $19.8 billion fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill by a vote of 69-30. The bill is $138 million less than last year's agriculture appropriations. The bill now goes to a House-Senate Conference Committee to work out the differences between the bills passed in the House and Senate. A major issue is the funding level difference of $2.6 billion between the House passed $17.2 billion and the Senate's $19.8 billion. A key difference is the level of funding for Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Senate provides $70 million more than the House. Other issues that will need to be resolved by the conference committee include:
• Payment limitations – The Senate bill would bar farmers with incomes over $1 million from receiving direct payments. The House bill contains no restrictions.
• Potatoes – The Senate bill blocks USDA from setting standards that limit the frequency of when white potatoes and other starchy vegetables are served in school lunches.
• The House bill includes language to block fiscal year 2012 payments to Brazil's cotton industry. This payment was agreed to as part of a settlement between the United States and Brazil. The Senate does not contain any limitation.
P. Scott Shearer