Congress is back in session after a two week recess. Here’s a quick update of what has happened this week on Capitol Hill impacting wheat growers.
U.S-Colombia FTA to be implemented May 15
President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced this week that the countries will implement the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) on May 15. Implementation of the FTA will eliminate all tariffs on U.S. wheat imports into Colombia. The agreement creates a level playing field for U.S. wheat farmers, as export competitors Canada and Argentina already enjoy duty-free access to the market. The U.S. wheat industry has been supportive of the FTAs with Colombia, South Korea, Panama and other free trade measures. “All three of these pacts are important to wheat farmers, who depend on exports to sell about half of the wheat we grow every year,” said Erik Younggren, President of NAWG. “The implementation of both the U.S.-Colombia and the U.S.-Korea FTAs gives us encouragement that we will soon see the agreement with Panama complete in the very near future.” A news release is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/04/u-s-wheat-industry-welcomes-u-s-colombia-fta-implementation-date/.
House Agriculture Committee Cuts $33 Billion from Food Stamps over Next Decade
Members of the House Agriculture Committee decided Wednesday to tighten the rules for qualifying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, as well as repeal increases to the program’s funding. This will result in one, five and 10-year savings estimates of $7.7 billion, $19.7 billion and $33.2 billion, respectively. This move, which is unlikely to pass in the Senate, is one of many that will aim to reconcile Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) House budget guidelines. More information on and audio/video of the meeting is available through the Committee’s website at http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/.
Farm Groups Weigh In on Commodity and Risk Management Programs
In a letter Thursday to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS), eight agricultural associations, including NAWG, voiced support for the Senate’s approach to the 2012 Farm Bill and raised several issues related to commodity and risk management programs. The letter commended the committee for adhering to its original proposal of $23 million in deficit reduction, brought forth to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction last fall. Additionally, the groups applauded the Committee’s decision not to restructure the federal crop insurance program or to reduce its funding for deficit reduction purposes. In a joint release about the letter, Erik Younggren, NAWG President commented, “We support this framework that would allow us to continue to protect our nation’s crops and livestock farms so they can continue to deliver a safe, secure food supply that supports thousands of jobs along the value chain to our consumers.” The letter can be accessed at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/Senate-Agriculture-Committee-Letter-for-web.pdf with a news release at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/04/farm-groups-weigh-in-on-commodity-and-risk-management-programs-as-senate-ag-begins-farm-bill-mark-up/
Senate Ag Committee Mark Up Next Week
This week the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee commented publically that the committee’s farm bill markup will begin next Wednesday and is expected to be done by the end of the week with a strong majority of the committee voting for it. Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) stated there is “a tremendous amount of consensus on the majority of the bill.” She also commented that she is “confident’ that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will find floor time for the bill. The Senate committee leaders have presented a united front with leaders of the House Agriculture Committee in reauthorization of the 5-year legislation that expires September 30th of this year.
House Announces Farm Bill Hearing Schedule
The House Ag Committee released a schedule this week for upcoming Farm Bill hearings which Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) described as the “time for national agricultural leaders and stakeholders to present their views on farm policy.” Six subcommittees will hold hearings over the next two months beginning Wednesday, April 25, 2012 with the Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture. The hearings in Washington follow several field hearings which conclude April 20, in Dodge City, Kansas and can be followed online at http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings. NAWG continues to meet with Members of Congress to discuss priorities, including the farm bill reauthorization process. More information on the upcoming hearings can be found at http://agriculture.house.gov.
TPP Business Coalition Holds Launch Event on the Hill
The U.S. Business Coalition for Trans-Pacific Partnership hosted an event this week on Capitol Hill to highlight the importance of TPP negations, which the Coalition says will promote economic opportunities and competitiveness, the creation and retention of jobs, higher living standards, and the reduction of poverty across all TPP countries. Attendees of the event included U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA), as well as Ambassadors or representatives from all the TPP partner countries. TPP represents an important opportunity for wheat, as eliminated tariffs and trade restrictions would help U.S. agriculture exports to increase in the quickly growing Pacific Rim. Japan, who is the United State’s largest importer of wheat, has also expressed interest in joining TPP discussions. To learn more about trade in the wheat industry visit www.wheatworld.org/trade.