Legislative Watch: Businesses take necessary precautions; common food name protection; seasonality hearing; waiting on COVID-19 aid.

P. Scott Shearer, Vice President

August 7, 2020

4 Min Read

A coalition of business associations are calling on Congressional leaders to address the issue of liability protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The associations are asking Congress to protect businesses that have taken "necessary precautions" to protect their employees and customers while continuing to operate.

In a letter to the House and Senate leaders, the coalition said, "To emphasize, we are not asking lawmakers to shield bad actors. Liability protection should not be given to any business that willfully ignored the risks of the spread of COVID-19 and committed gross negligence. Rather, businesses that made reasonable, good faith efforts to keep their doors open in a way that was safe for their communities should be protected from liability."

Those signing the letter included the American Bakers Association, American Truckers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, National Association of Convenience Stores, National Chicken Council, National Grocers Association, North American Meat Institute, and United Fresh Produce Association. 

There have been lawsuits filed against meatpackers concerning employee deaths from coronavirus. 

Senators urge protection of common food names
A bipartisan group of 61 senators is urging the United States Trade Representative and USDA to support stronger international safeguards to protect U.S. exporters using common food and wine terms. 

In their letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the senators said, "Our competitors continue to employ trade negotiations around the world to prohibit American-made products from using common food names such as bologna, parmesan, chateau and feta which have been in use for decades."

A diverse group of farm organizations and agribusinesses praised the letter. The group includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, Consortium for Common Food Names, National Milk Producers Federation, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, North American Meat Institute and Wine Institute.

Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute said, "The European Union has for too long unjustifiably and erroneously attempted to restrict trade in common food name products, including meat exports from the U.S. The policy advocated in the bipartisan letter sent today to USDA and USTR will advance critical safeguards for common food name products in international trade and will enable America's meat and poultry packers and processors, agricultural producers and food manufacturers to compete on a level playing field with their counterparts in the EU."

Seasonality hearing
Fruit and vegetable producers in Florida and Georgia have claimed over the years that the North American Free Trade Agreement eroded their markets in favor of imports, especially from Mexico. They had urged the issue to be addressed in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by giving protections for their products when in season by using "anti-dumping and countervailing duty" provisions. 

With the upcoming hearings that USTR, USDA, and the Department of Commerce will be holding to discuss trade concerns of seasonal produce growers in Florida and Georgia, a group of agricultural organizations have filed comments with the administration citing concerns. 

The group said, "…we are concerned that punitive measures levied against seasonal fruits and vegetable imports from Mexico, in particular, would inflict undue retaliatory harm on U.S. agricultural producers and undermine the hard-fought gains won in USMCA." Mexico and other countries would be expected to take action against the United States if "seasonality protection" was implemented by the administration.

Those signing the comments include the American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Institute, U.S. Grains Council and U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Waiting game
Everyone is waiting to see if a compromise can be reached on the next coronavirus aid package. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer continue to meet daily to try and reach an agreement. As of Thursday night they were at the brink of failure, especially on the amount of aid that is needed. 

President Trump has threatened to bypass Congress by issuing executive orders. Many believe he has limited authority on what actions he can take.

There are significant differences between the two parties including how much aid is needed; extension of enhanced unemployment benefits which expired on July 31; increase in SNAP benefits; aid to state and local governments; liability protection, etc. 

The House of Representatives is in recess until a deal is reached at which time members will return to vote. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said senators could go home and would be given a twenty-four hour notice to return for a vote if there is an agreement.

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.


About the Author(s)

P. Scott Shearer

Vice President, Bockorny Group, Inc.

Scott Shearer is vice president of the Bockorny Group Inc., a leading bipartisan government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years experience in government and corporate relations in state and national arenas, he is recognized as a leader in agricultural trade issues, having served as co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Trade Promotion Authority. Scott was instrumental in the passage of China Permanent Normal Trade Relations and TPA. He is past chairman of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products and was a member of the USAID Food Security Advisory Committee. Prior to joining the Bockorny Group, Scott served as director of national relations for Farmland Industries Inc., as well as USDA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs (1993-96), serving as liaison for the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to Congress.

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