May 19, 2015

Trade Issues on the Front Burner in DC

International trade issues were a focus during the Western Growers board fly-in last week, and activity in DC this week sees trade as a significant issue on several fronts.

Trade Promotion Authority

This week the Senate continues consideration of legislation to renew the president’s Trade Promotion Authority. After completing consideration of several amendments, the Senate is expected to conclude debate and vote on final passage before leaving for the Memorial Day recess this weekend. The legislation has encountered some political speed bumps in the last couple weeks, but a strong bi-partisan vote out of the Senate would set the stage for House consideration in early June.

Western Growers continues to urge members to reach out to your Senators and Representatives to encourage a YES vote on Trade Promotion Authority. Please take time to weigh-in with your elected officials if you have not already done so.

WTO Country of Origin Labeling Decision

On Monday, a WTO appeals panel rejected the United States attempt to reverse an earlier decision made against U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products. Canada and Mexico will seek a determination on how much they can retaliate based on losses incurred through COOL requirements and will move towards either settling with the United States or imposing retaliatory tariffs if settlement cannot be reached.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced legislation today that would repeal COOL requirements for beef, pork, and poultry products. The Committee will be meeting on Wednesday morning to mark-up this legislation.   In announcing the mark-up Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) said, “As we have seen time and again, mandatory Country of Origin Labeling is a misguided government policy that has damaged our trading relationships with Canada and Mexico and subjected the United States to trade retaliations. That is why I am honored to be joined by my colleagues in introducing critical bipartisan legislation to repeal COOL for beef, pork and chicken.”

Former Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) who was the original author of COOL provisions remains opposed to repeal of these provision for beef, pork, and poultry producers, but has expressed willingness to consider changes in light of this recent ruling.

While the WTO decision does not address COOL requirements for fresh produce products, potential retaliation by Canada and Mexico could target key commodities.

Trans Pacific Partnership

While Congress works to pass Trade Promotion Authority, U.S. negotiators continue to meet with Trans Pacific Partner counterparts, with the next round of negotiations taking place next week, efforts continue to narrow the list of issues that must be resolved before an agreement can be finalized.

During last week’s board fly-in, several Western Growers members were able to meet with the Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Darci Vetter. A number of critical issues were discussed in relation to trade concerns facing produce growers, particularly in relation to TPP countries. Of particular emphasis was the importance of addressing phytosanitary and other non-tariff barriers to U.S. produce exports. While many tariffs facing fruit, vegetable, and tree nut exports will go to zero either immediately or through a phase-out schedule, the most pressing concerns tend to be non-tariff issues. Ambassador Vetter spoke to USTR’s strong interest in continuing to address these issues in context of negotiations and agreements.