This column will try to resolve some misconceptions regarding key livestock industry issues.
One of these misconceptions has to do with mCOOL. Some folks assumed that now that the WTO has four times rejected both the original mCOOL regulation promulgated by USDA and its revised version, that USDA has warned Congress it is out of ideas on further revisions, that now Congress will see the light and repeal.
The House Agriculture Committee has indeed responded to that logic, voted a repeal bill out of Committee and the House is expected to vote this month.
The Senate is another story. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) still thinks the original law can be tweaked to satisfy WTO trade rules, despite all evidence to the contrary. She also apparently is ignoring the real-world "test" of the law that shows consumers have not used the info on the label, that it has not spurred demand for American beef and, certainly, has done nothing to justify the huge cost to the three countries involved. The rest of the Democratic members of the committee are standing by, waiting for direction from the ranking member, Senator Stabenow.
Since all that logic has failed, the industry needs to make sure the senators on the Ag Committee and, eventually, all members of Congress, understand the threat of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods exported to Canada or Mexico is real, is expensive and is likely to make their constituents very unhappy. Try selling something when the price doubles overnight. Both Canada and Mexico would apply to the WTO for authority to begin 100 percent retaliatory tariffs on a list of goods imported by those counties from the U.S.
The initial total figures mentioned for the two countries was $2 billion. But this fight has gone on so long, recent statements from Canada's ag minister indicated that they would apply for authorization of somewhere between $2.5 to $3 billion alone, let alone what Mexico would apply for. Mexico has not published a list or a target total.
Anyone interested in seeing an end to this legislation, would do well to contact their senator if he/she is on the Senate Ag committee, especially if their senator is a Democrat, to express support of a repeal bill. A couple billion dollars is a lot of money to the livestock industry. Just two states represented by senators on the ag committee, Iowa and Michigan, total more than a billion dollars in ag exports to Canada. Two states not represented on the committee, California and Texas, total another $1.2 billion in targeted exports.
For more info on other states or detail, the following website enables one to find the data on each state:
Click here to see Senate Ag Committee membership: http://www.ag.senate.gov/about
Republicans: Roberts (chair), Kan..; Cochran, Miss.; McConnell, Ky.; Boozman, Ark.; Hoeven, ND.; Perdue, Ga.; Ernst, Iowa.; Tillis, NC.; Sasse, Neb; Grassley, Iowa. and Thune, SD.
Democrats: Stabenow, Mich.; Leahy, Vt.; Brown, Ohio; Klobuchar, Minn..; Bennet, Colo.; Gillibrand, NY.; Donnelly, Ind.; Heitkamp, ND and Casey, Jr. Pa.
The other blatant example of misconception involves the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, which is up for a vote in the House now and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is not up for a vote anywhere. I can't recall any recent issue in which normally accurate talk show hosts as well as members of Congress have gotten the basic facts of an issue so wrong. It can perhaps be put down to the fact that so many do not trust President Obama, hate his policies and suspect his motives, that they cannot see straight. That's still no excuse. Hate every other one of his policies but get the facts right and take what we can get on the only issue animal agriculture is likely to agree with the President.
TPA is a bill, now passed by the Senate and sent to the House, that allows the executive branch the authority to negotiate trade deals, subject to a list of 150 instructions, and then to submit any resulting trade treaties to the Congress for an up or down vote. The U.S. Trade Representative's office negotiates the deals on access and tariffs, based on economics, health and safety protocols and trade barriers. The treaties do not take affect until Congress approves. The negotiating authority is for a limited time, in this case, six years.
This is the exact same procedure followed for the last three trade deals, Panama, Colombia and South Korea, negotiated by President Bush's USTR and signed by President Obama. All presidents since JFK have been given this authority to negotiate deals by Congress. It is one of the major factors in America's prosperity. This mechanism has been used to get access to markets in countries all over the world. Delicate trade and tariff deals, haggled and hashed out over years with many representatives from multiple countries, cannot be negotiated through the media or by hundreds of legislators in many countries. It just doesn't work.
TPP is not up for a vote. It is, reportedly, nearing completion after a decade of negotiating. Indeed, the last several USTRs have worked on TPP, some of them before Obama was even a senator. But even negotiations on trade treaties – while not public – are available to Congress to monitor progress. Members can go read draft texts, they just can't blab or take notes.
But to some talk show hosts, the fact that the media cannot report on secret negotiations or Congressmen can't blab about things that are fluid and under negotiation, are tantamount to some treasonous act first invented by President Obama. They are screaming that this is another instance of Congress voting on something when they don't know what's in it. That is absolutely not true. The full text of any trade treaty is available before any vote on it by Congress. Which is more than Congress can say about several of the monstrous bills they passed in recent years with neither knowledge nor concern about what was in it.
Free trade is currently not an easy issue for some folks to digest. But it is certainly not easy when people can't even distinguish between enabling legislation that delegates some responsibility but requires approval of Congress and negotiations that are not final and not up for a vote. I'm guessing some of these people have either never had a job or forgotten what it was like. But delegation of authority and subject to the boss' approval are pretty common organizational concepts.