For the Week Ending August 28, 2020

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On Thursday afternoon, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talked for the first time in three weeks to try to break an impasse regarding the next COVID relief package, however it didn’t appear to be successful. Meantime, Meadows said Wednesday he is not optimistic about reaching a deal before the end of September, when government funding runs out unless a separate agreement is reached. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans circulated a slimmed down, $500 billion COVID aid package that among changes, didn’t include additional aid for farmers. Democrats rejected the revised package and suggested they’d be willing to discuss a larger, $2 trillion aid package, $1 trillion lower than what the Democrat-controlled House passed last month. It’s unclear whether any progress has been made between the two parties. In the next COVID relief package, NPPC continues to urge Congress to include the RELIEF for Producers Act of 2020, which contains 1) compensation for euthanized and donated hogs; 2) additional funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have appropriately assisted and shared resources with their public health partners; and 3) modification of the Commodity Credit Corporation charter so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for funding. NPPC also continues to push for additional funds for direct payments to producers without restriction and extension of the Paycheck Protection Program with modifications to make it useful to more producers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters this week that a second round of payments to farmers from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) could be announced shortly after Labor Day in September. USDA has about $14 billion available in funds allocated by the CARES Act to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation after July 1. Among other provisions, the first round of CFAP provided $1.6 million in direct payments to hog farmers. The agency is still accepting applications on the first round of payments and recently both expanded commodities eligible for the program and extended the application deadline to Sept. 11. 

On Friday, Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing-wen said the territory would soon lift restrictions on U.S. pork and beef, paving the way for an eventual free trade agreement with America. Since 2007, Taiwan has denied market access to U.S. pork raised with ractopamine, despite an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the safety of the feed additive. Ractopamine is widely used as a feed ingredient in global beef and pork production. It is approved for use in production by nearly 30 nations and by the CODEX Alimentarius, the international standard-setting organization. Imports of pork raised with ractopamine are accepted by 75 countries. Although ractopamine use by hog farmers is not widespread, it is an option that is safe and acceptable. NPPC appreciates that Taiwan is indicating it will soon lift all non-tariff barriers to U.S. pork and is grateful for the work of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the USDA to tear down barriers to U.S. pork exports all over the world. NPPC will continue to defend the right of U.S. hog farmers to use production processes and products that are safe. NPPC opposes government mandates that, with no scientific backing, dictate production practices and unnecessarily increase food prices and inhibit consumer choice. 

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked with China’s Vice Premier Liu He on Monday as part of a six-month review of the “phase one” trade deal enacted earlier this year between the two countries. “Both sides see progress and are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement,” according to a USTR statement. The trade deal includes the purchase of $40 billion in agricultural products, including pork—by far the most significant protein consumed in China. In response to U.S. trade policy actions, U.S. pork exports are on Chinese retaliation lists, resulting in a cumulative 33 percent tariff. By comparison, pork from competitor nations only has an 8 percent tariff, placing U.S. pork at a significant competitive disadvantage. In order to full capture the benefits of the “phase one” trade deal, NPPC urges China to permanently exclude U.S. pork from retaliatory tariffs.  

Earlier this month, NPPC joined 19 agriculture groups in the Agriculture Nutrient Policy Council in submitting comments on EPA’s draft Clean Water Act Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC) for lakes and reservoirs, urging the agency to publish its draft as guidance rather than a final rule. NNC provides an important tool for managing the effects of nutrient pollution by providing nutrient goals that ensure the protection and maintenance of designated uses. The draft rule, proposed in May, updates models since the previous recommended NNC in 2000 and 2001. “Because nutrients are naturally occurring and play an important role within ecosystems, nutrient concentrations need not be limited unless they cause biological harm. Nutrients are unlike any other ‘pollutant’ regulated by the federal Clean Water Act…[since they] are not only present naturally in aquatic systems, they are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of biological communities, and are sometimes moderated in their expression by many natural factors,” the agriculture groups wrote. Instead, the groups are urging EPA to finalize the draft criteria models as guidance, which would be consistent with the agency’s preference for flexible, state-led approaches to reducing nutrient pollution. Read the full comments here.

Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in history, announced his resignation on Friday, citing health reasons. Under Abe’s leadership, the U.S.-Japan trade agreement was negotiated, placing U.S. pork producers back on a level competitive playing field in its highest-value export market. Japan was in the midst of pursuing trade deals with a number of other countries, including the UK. Abe’s resignation is causing uncertainty to the Japan-UK negotiations, just as the talks reached their final stages. Meantime, Abe said he will remain in office until a successor is chosen. 

On Wednesday, European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan resigned over allegations he breached COVID-19 guidelines during a golf dinner in Ireland last week. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will take over the trade portfolio in the interim, but as EU’s main trade point person, Hogan frequently worked with his U.S. counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, as the U.S. and EU work towards a free trade agreement. On Aug. 21, Hogan and Lighthizer had announced a limited package of tariff reductions—the first in more than two decades—that aimed to increase market access for millions of dollars in U.S. and EU exports, focused on lobster, certain prepared meals, crystal glassware and propellant powders, among other products. Hogan’s departure is not expected to affect US-EU trade relations in the short term. On Oct. 16, 2018, the Trump administration announced its intent to negotiate free trade agreements with several new markets, including the EU. The EU maintains high levels of tariff protection, as well as scientifically unjustifiable sanitary-phytosanitary and technical barriers to trade that make shipment of U.S. pork to the EU difficult, if not impossible. NPPC is urging the EU eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. pork and recognize the equivalence of U.S. pork production practices, as well as accept exports from all USDA-approved facilities.