Much of Aggie-DC is focused on the ongoing farm bill process, which at this point is taking place in hearing rooms in Washington and at more informal locations for ‘listening sessions’ around the country. Reports suggest that staff for both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will be drafting legislative language based on what they heard during those hearings over the next few months.
However, important developments have also been occurring over the last few months in other parts of agricultural policy space as well. A few of these developments will be summarized in today’s blog.
Even though President Trump formally withdrew the United States from participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in his first full week in office, other countries who took part in the original negotiations have not yet given up. The remaining 11 countries have met twice to discuss how to revive the deal without the United States, with a third meeting scheduled soon.
While Mr. Trump seems convinced bilateral deals is the best way to go, not all of our trading partners share that view. Japan just completed a deal with the European Union that includes the agricultural market access provisions that U.S. negotiators worked hard to achieve under TPP, but are now unavailable to U.S. exporters. The government of Japan has asserted these concessions will not be on the table in a bilateral U.S.-Japan negotiation.
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are poised to begin their work in ‘updating’ NAFTA, with the first round of discussions scheduled to begin on August 16th in Washington DC. Although the U.S. team will be led by John Melle, a veteran negotiator, the two top Ag trade officials are not yet in place. Neither Gregg Doud, a former Senate Ag staffer and NCBA official, nominated as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator, nor Ted McKinney, the current Indiana director of agriculture, nominated as the first Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and International Affairs, have yet been confirmed by the Senate. Neither can take a formal role in the NAFTA process until that occurs, which could be several weeks from now as the Senate takes its August recess, and neither nominee has yet received a confirmation hearing before their respective committees.
As a result of the stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws during the early months of the Trump administration, the U.S. agricultural sector is having a really difficult time hiring sufficient workers. Anecdotal reports from California and other states with large specialty crop operations suggest that many farmers are facing such significant labor shortages that some crops are being left to rot in the fields.
As was the case during the recent global recession, net immigration between Mexico and the United States is believed to be negative, in part due to relative strength of the Mexican economy in 2017. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, requests from U.S. farmers to hire migrant workers under the H2-A (temporary seasonal visa) program was at nearly 100,000 for the first six months of 2017, on a pace to exceed the levels in recent years.
A bill introduced in May, the Agriculture Worker Program Act (HR.2690), would create a path to legal status and citizenship for undocumented farm workers already in the country, but does not address the underlying problems in the H2-A program. In addition, the House Agricultural Appropriation Subcommittee added an amendment to the FY18 bill allowing all farm operations to utilize H2-A workers, even dairy and livestock farms that operate year round. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R, VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced plans to offer a bill to establish a new H2-C farm guest worker program that would address many of the weaknesses of the H2-A program for new workers, but apparently not help undocumented farm workers already in the country. Even if enacted soon, none of these bills could possibly take effect before this fall’s harvest.
On July 27, a three-judge panel from the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has exceeded its authority under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 by reducing the RFS mandate for ethanol production between 2014 and 2016 in invoking the ‘inadequate supply’ waiver. This lawsuit had been filed by Americans for Clean Energy (ACE) in 2016. The panel’s decision vacated the EPA’s earlier RFS rules and requires the agency to redo the RFS numbers in light of the court’s decision. Supporters of the renewable fuel industry view the court’s decision as a victory, although all must await EPA’s revised rule to reach a final verdict.