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The agreement will now have to be ratified by the legislatures of the three countries which could take months. Evgeny Gromov-GettyImages

USMCA gets signed; Clock ticking on farm bill

Legislative Watch: USMCA now has to be ratified; farm bill takes another step forward; USDA lowers ag exports, Pelosi voted in.

During the G20 summit today in Buenos Aires, Argentina, President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement which will replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump says, “This is a model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever.”

The agreement will now have to be ratified by the legislatures of the three countries which could take months. Mexico is expected to ratify the agreement in the near future. Congress and the Canadian parliament are expected to consider the agreement sometime next year.

The remaining question is when will there be an agreement between the United States and Mexico and the United States and Canada on ending the retaliatory tariffs on steel and aluminum. This is a major cost to U.S. agriculture.

Farm bill takes another step forward
The leadership of the House and Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee announced they have reached an agreement in principal on the 2018 farm bill. 

In a joint statement Chairmen Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Members Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Collin Peterson (D-MI) say, “We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 farm bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible.”

The next steps for the farm bill will be to finalize the legal text of the bill and for the Congressional Budget Office to score the final cost estimates of the agreement. Once those are completed, it is expected the leaders will release the text of the bill and the conference committee will approve the agreement. After the conference committee approves the bill, the farm bill will be considered by the House and the Senate. With less than 10 legislative days left time is of the essence. 

USDA lowers estimates for FY ’19 ag exports
USDA lowered its estimate of agriculture exports for fiscal year 2019 to $141.5 billion, down $3 billion from its previous forecast of $144.5 billion. This would mean exports would be down $2 billion compared to fiscal year 2018. Imports are estimated to remain steady. The agricultural trade surplus is forecasted at $14.5 billion which is the smallest in 12 years. 

House Dems nominate Pelosi as Speaker
This week, the House Democratic Caucus voted for Nancy Pelosi as their nominee for Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress. Pelosi received 203 votes. There were 32 no votes, three blanks and one member was absent. This is an improvement for Pelosi compared to 2016 when 63 members voted for Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) for Minority Leader. The remaining question is what will the members do on Jan. 3 who have said they will not vote for her when the House votes for Speaker. Pelosi will need 218 votes to be elected Speaker.

Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was selected to be the Majority Leader and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) as Majority Whip. 

Election update
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) won the runoff election on Tuesday by defeating former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. The Republicans after gaining two seats this election will control the Senate 53-47. There is one remaining Congressional race to be decided in California. The Democrats so far have gained 39 seats. This is the largest victory for House Democrats since the Watergate election of 1974.

USDA confirmation hearings
The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing this week to consider three USDA nominations — Mindy Brashears as undersecretary for Food Safety, Naomi Earp as Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights and Scott Hutchins as Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. 

Brashears is a professor of food safety and public health and serves as the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech. She has been endorsed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Institute.

Earp served as chair and vice chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush. Hutchins is an entomologist and works for Corteva Agriscience. 

This week the Senate confirmed Stephen Vaden as USDA General Counsel. 

USMEF officers announced
The U.S. Meat Export Federation elected new officers for 2019. Conley Ferguson of Algona, Iowa was elected chairman. He is a pork producer and past president of the National Pork Board. Ferguson is currently general manager of Smithfield’s hog production division in the company’s five-state Midwest region. Cevin Jones of Eden, Idaho will serve as chair-elect. Jones operates Intermountain Beef, a custom feedlot. Pat Binger of Wichita, Kan. was elected vice chair. He is in charge of international sales for Cargill Protein Group. Mark Swanson of Henderson, Colo. will serve as secretary-treasurer. Swanson is chief executive officer of Birko Corp.

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