Senators Harkin and Lincoln to Take Over Key Committee Roles

NCBA congratulates Senators Harkin and Lincoln on their new leadership positions with the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Agriculture Committees. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been elected to serve as chair of the HELP Committee, filling the spot left vacant by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has been chosen to succeed Senator Harkin as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Both Senators are well grounded in America's agricultural heartland and we're confident that these moves will be beneficial to cattle producers.

Senator Harkin has been a diligent champion of agriculture, and we appreciate all of his work on behalf of cattle producers, particularly on the 2008 Farm Bill. His Agriculture Committee background will serve him well in his new role which has oversight jurisdiction of FDA and will have a direct impact on important issues like approval of animal drugs, livestock feed and nutrition labeling.

Senator Lincoln has demonstrated a unique appreciation of agriculture and the issues important to cattle producers. In particular, her introduction of an amendment to provide death tax relief during the Senate Budget debate earlier this spring shows her commitment to helping America's farmers and ranchers. We will continue our work with her on the Finance committee and are looking forward to working more closely with her in this new role as chair of the Agriculture Committee.

Sunstein Confirmed to Top White House Regulatory Position

The Senate voted 57-40 this afternoon to confirm Cass Sunstein as the new Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As OIRA Administrator, Mr. Sunstein will review and approve or reject all regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, thus giving him great power to influence these regulations.

While we have no doubt that Mr. Sunstein is otherwise qualified for this job, NCBA remains concerned about Mr. Sunstein's long history of academic work in animal rights and anti-livestock advocacy, including a book in which he asserted that animals should have the right to bring suits against humans, with humans as their legal representatives. We are encouraged by Mr. Sunstein's recent letter to Senator Chambliss (R-Ga.) in which he clarified that he does not favor and would not support such a right, and that his primary concern would be to ensure that regulations are consistent with the Constitution, the law as enacted by Congress, and the principles reflected in governing Executive Orders. We hope that he will indeed follow through on this pledge, and that as he looks at regulations impacting livestock production, he will reach out to the animal agriculture community and make decisions based on sound science, not personal feelings.

NCBA Comments on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association submitted the following comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative today in regards to the Free Trade Agreement with the Republic of Colombia.

"The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) is pleased to provide comment on the potential benefits of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA). If enacted, the CTPA would eliminate duties immediately on high quality beef, and reduce tariffs on all other products. This association will continue to advocate for the consideration and passage of the pending, already negotiated free trade agreements (FTAs) as well as work to expand current and future market access for our nation's beef producers.

"NCBA has represented America's cattle producers since 1898, preserving the heritage and strength of the industry through education and public policy. As the oldest and largest national association of cattle producers, NCBA works to create new markets and increase demand for beef. NCBA and its affiliates represent about 230,000 producers, in every state, at all levels of production.

"NCBA supports quick passage of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. Colombia is the United States' 10th largest trading partner worldwide in agriculture and livestock products. The CTPA not only provides an opportunity to level the playing field at long last, but it also provides a significant opportunity to expand U.S. beef and beef variety meat sales to the Colombian market.

"Colombia is an important market for U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports. As other countries successfully negotiate similar agreements with Colombia, the U.S.-Colombia TPA will help the U.S. agriculture industry sustain a competitive edge. With 96% of the world's population living outside our borders, we as a competitive global society must look abroad to generate new market opportunities and expand existing ones with meaningful market access.

"In May 2003, on the verge of launching FTA negotiations with the United States, the Colombian government raised its 20% applied tariff on U.S. beef to the maximum allowed (bound) tariff of 80% (70% for variety meats). Colombia still maintains this tariff level on U.S. beef imports today, making it one of the highest tariffs U.S. beef faces anywhere in the world. Once entered into force, this agreement immediately provides duty free access for high quality U.S. beef, reduces tariffs on all other beef and beef products over 15 years, and for the first time ever, puts us on a competitive footing with the beef Colombia imports from Brazil and Argentina. NCBA estimates that the failure to ratify this agreement and regain merely traditional levels of market share for U.S. beef exports to Colombia has cost the U.S. beef industry $5.5 million in exports over the past two years. In 2008, the U.S. exported only 461 metric tons of beef and beef variety meats to Colombia worth a paltry $800,000 when up against these 80% duties.

"Just as important, this agreement provides assurances for a stable export market through plant inspection equivalency. It also fully reopens the Colombian market to U.S. beef by assuring that Colombia adheres to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines related to BSE. In an official side letter, Colombia made written commitment to resume imports of all U.S. beef and beef products by no later than October 31, 2006 and agreed that all federally inspected U.S. establishments are eligible to export into Colombia. But until the U.S.-Colombia TPA is passed and implemented, U.S. beef exports will continue to face tariffs of up to 80%, making it impossible to compete in this growing market.

"In addition to immediate duty-free access for U.S. Prime and Choice beef, other beef products within certain tariff rate quotas (TRQs) will enjoy considerable duty-free access on day one of this agreement. NCBA estimates that filing only these TRQs (with no consideration for the potential for U.S. Prime and Choice beef duty-free exports) could potentially amount to over $9 million in trade in the first year alone of the agreement's implementation.

"The U.S. has not historically imported beef products or live cattle from Colombia, as it has been struggling with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) since the early 1970s. This agreement does nothing to alter the U.S. position regarding imports of beef or live cattle from countries with FMD.

"NCBA members have been leaders in the promotion of reliable, free and fair trade across the globe. We supported these negotiations because the Colombian market holds opportunities to expand our U.S. beef and beef product exports. With this agreement, U.S. cattlemen can and will be competitive in the Colombian market place. NCB strongly supports the passage of the U.S. - Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. This is the best negotiated free trade agreement for U.S. beef to date, as it eliminates duties immediately on high quality beef, and reduces tariffs on all other products faster than ever before.

"Colombia is a vital market for America's farmers and ranchers. This agreement is supported by over 40 U.S. agriculture and food organizations. Once fully implemented, the U.S.-Colombia TPA would provide an estimated $700 million in gains each year for American agriculture.

"Given today's declining economic environment, NCBA feels strongly that the U.S.-Colombia TPA is a solid opportunity for the U.S. to create jobs, strengthen our economy and access growing new markets for the agriculture industry."

USDA Responds to NCBA's Request for Changes to Livestock Indemnity Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced last week that it will add an additional weight category to the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) for non-adult beef cattle, non-adult dairy cattle, and non-adult buffalo/beefalo.

LIP compensates livestock owners at a rate of 75% of the market value of the livestock for losses in excess of normal mortality rates due to adverse weather. NCBA has been actively pushing for changes to this program, which has historically set the weight categories for assessing market value at under 400 lbs and over 400 lbs. This has caused undervalued assessments for livestock losses. NCBA held meetings with FSA to highlight the importance of rectifying this problem.

FSA announced that the over 400 pound category will be split into 2 categories: 400 to 799 pounds and 800 pounds or more. This change will ensure that the assigned market values for non-adult beef cattle, non-adult dairy cattle and non-adult buffalo/beefalo over 400 pounds reflect the statutory requirement for the payment to be 75 percent of the market value for the livestock.

FSA state offices will establish new normal mortality rates for each of the new weight categories covered under LIP and FSA national headquarters will establish average fair market prices for each category.

NCBA Legislative Conference Coming to DC

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) will hold its 2009 Legislative Conference September 14-17 in Washington, D.C. The annual NCBA Legislative Conference is an important opportunity for cattle producers to meet with congressional and agency representatives to talk about policy issues impacting the industry.

The conference will kick off with legislative and "state of the industry" briefings on Monday. On Tuesday, producers will attend briefings with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other key staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and the Global Change Program Office. On Wednesday, producers will head to Capitol Hill to meet with their Congressional representatives. Also during the week, producers will take part in a number of regulatory meetings with representatives from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Futures Trading Commission, and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

For more information, visit: http://beefusa.org/convspringlegislativeconference.aspx

Don't miss NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen!

Don't miss NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen, September 15-19, as we analyze the impact of this year's corn crop on the cattle industry. We'll also learn how a preventative animal health program is important to an operation's bottom line, and we'll get a quick preview of what's new at the 2010 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio, Texas.

NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen is now an hour long! The show debuts at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and airs again at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and 9 a.m. on Saturday (all times Eastern). Don't forget, you can watch NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen online anytime by visiting www.cattlementocattlemen.org

Also, follow us on Twitter at NCBA C2C and become a fan of the show on Facebook by searching NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen.