Legislative Watch: CCP national security threat; Senators push Biden administration to boost ag trade; Senate votes to block beef imports from Paraguay.

Eric Bohl

March 22, 2024

3 Min Read

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the threats China poses to American agriculture. The issue has gained political prominence over the past several years and is poised to be a main campaign issue in the 2024 elections.

Opening the hearing, Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) said, “The People’s Republic of China, governed by the Chinese Communist Party, has gone out of its way to reduce its reliance on American agriculture, all the while aggressively pursuing tactics that threaten our nation’s ability to feed itself. … These last few years have seen China steal U.S. intellectual property, hack critical cybersecurity and related infrastructure, weaponize agricultural trade, and acquire American farmland at an alarming rate. Each of these disrupt our national security, our rural communities, and our resiliency.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a leading contender to be Donald Trump’s running mate this fall, testified at the hearing. Noem described efforts by Chinese nationals last summer to tour farms in her state. The State Department later informed Noem that the individuals were spies looking to steal crop genetics and intellectual property.

“The Chinese Communist Party is not our friend,” Noem said. “It is not our partner. It is not our ally. The CCP is our enemy – a rapidly expanding national security threat that cannot be ignored.”

Bipartisan members of the Committee expressed concern over China’s actions purchasing farmland, especially close to sensitive military installations, and vowed to take further steps to combat Chinese investment in these areas.

Senators push Biden administration to boost ag trade

Nearly half of the Republican members of the Senate recently sent a letter to the Biden administration to voice concern for the lack of trade opportunities for U.S. agricultural exports. The letter, sent last week by John Thune (R-S.D.) and 21 of his Republican colleagues, is directed to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The senators highlight the $17 billion decline in ag exports in the previous fiscal year and the forecast of another $8 billion drop this year. “[W]e urge the Biden administration to immediately take action to improve the competitiveness of U.S. agricultural products abroad and reverse this trend,” they write.

“We expect trade to fluctuate in response to macroeconomic factors and market conditions. However, the current sharp decline in U.S. agricultural exports is directly attributable to and exacerbated by an unambitious U.S. trade strategy that is failing to meaningfully expand market access or reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.”

The group requested that Tai and Vilsack identify specific actions they intend to take to increase agricultural exports. They also asked the officials whether the Biden administration intends to pursue new or improved free trade agreements in 2024 to expand market access. Tai and Vilsack have not yet responded to the letter.

Senate votes to block beef imports from Paraguay

On Thursday, the Senate voted 70-25 to overturn a USDA decision allowing the resumption of beef imports from Paraguay. Imports from the South American nation have been banned for many years due to concerns over foot and mouth disease, but USDA announced in December that it was lifting the prohibition. The Senate resolution was jointly introduced by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Lawmakers and many industry advocates raised concerns over the data USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had used to evaluate the FMD risk. They argued that the last on-the-ground site visits, conducted in 2008 and 2014, were not recent enough to justify lifting the ban.

The Senate resolution will now be sent to the House for consideration. If it passes a vote in the lower chamber, President Biden has indicated he would likely veto the bill, as USDA officials argue they conducted a thorough risk assessment. However, the Senate’s vote tally would be sufficient to override a veto if necessary.

About the Author(s)

Eric Bohl

Eric Bohl is an agricultural policy leader with extensive experience on Capitol Hill. He served six years as Chief of Staff to Congressman Jason Smith (R-MO) and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and previously served as Legislative Director to Rep. Hartzler. During that time, he led her work on the House Agriculture Committee and was influential in efforts to craft the 2014 Farm Bill, as well as handling environmental, energy, transportation and infrastructure, and agricultural trade issues.

Eric’s experience starts at the ground level. His family has deep roots in both animal and row-crop farming going back several generations. This understanding of the unique challenges real farmers face brings valuable perspective to help solve clients’ needs. His midwestern values also allow him to build meaningful relationships with people on both sides of the political aisle and find common-sense solutions that transcend partisan lines.

This approach has continued to be the cornerstone of Eric’s career in grassroots advocacy. He served more than five years as Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy for Missouri Farm Bureau. He was a senior member of the organization’s legislative team and led communications and coalition advocacy efforts, including on the 2018 Farm Bill. His writings on agriculture and rural policy have been published in newspapers across the nation. He serves as First Vice President of the St. Louis Agribusiness Club and is a board member of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, two of the nation’s largest and strongest organizations supporting agribusinesses.

Before his career in public policy, Eric was a practicing attorney for nearly five years, focusing on real estate and agricultural law, commercial transactions, and commercial litigation. Eric earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri, graduating from both programs with honors, and served as the Managing Editor of the Missouri Law Review.

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