D.C. Watch: FTAs finally approved

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Congress finally took action on the three free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements were initially negotiated several years ago but not submitted to Congress. The Obama administration has worked out changes to the original agreements to make them more palatable to members of Congress. Once they are fully implemented the trade agreements are expected to boost U.S. exports by about $13 billion per year with increases of about $2.3 billion in exports of agricultural products.

The “super committee has been meeting behind closed doors for the last couple of weeks, but there are signs that the committee is struggling to come up with any real breakthroughs on how to cut trillions of dollars from the budget. The roadblocks are familiar – disagreements over taxes and cuts to social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. These are the same factors that prevented Congress and the Administration from significantly reducing budget deficits in the impasse this summer. It is difficult to see how the super committee can succeed when the same people who couldn’t agree this summer will have to approve whatever the super committee recommends.

It appears the Senate Agriculture Committee will recommend farm program cuts of between $20 billion and $33 billion over 10 years to the “super committee”. The various committees in Congress had a deadline of Friday to provide their recommendations to the committee, which is supposed to finalize their collective recommendations by December 2. Senator Grassley (R-IA) says the plan being developed in the Agriculture Committee would eliminate direct payments and implement a revenue assurance program that would shield grain, oilseed and cotton producers from “shallow” losses caused by low prices or poor yields. (Crop insurance would cover large losses.)

USDA has extended the comment period for a proposed animal identification rule. The comment period for the proposed rule will now expire December 9. The proposed rule says livestock moved from one state to another would have to be identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation. No documentation would be required for livestock that do not cross state lines.

The Senate passed the controversial bill that would require the administration to put tariffs on imports from countries that manipulate their currencies. Most people agree that China’s currency is under-valued, giving China an unfair competitive advantage in world markets, and China is the primary target of the bill passed by the Senate. The bill has broad support in the House of Representatives, with 226 supporters, but the House leadership will probably not bring the bill up for a vote. (Opponents say if the bill becomes law, it could trigger a trade war with China.)

A report examining the research behind the climate change debate has been released by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). The new report examines agriculture’s role in climate changes. The key conclusion of the report is that emissions of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide and other gases from agriculture can be reduced through modified land use management. The study contends that concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions have increased to levels not experienced in hundreds of thousands of years and that bioenergy crops offer opportunities for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate failed to move the $447 billion jobs bill proposed by the president. It would have taken sixty votes to move the bill to the floor for debate and the measure got only 50 votes. The jobs package included $250 billion in tax cuts, including reduced payroll taxes on both workers and employers; $60 billion in extended unemployment benefits; and $140 billion in spending on education, transportation projects and public workers, including police officers. The bill would have raised taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans in order to pay for it. Senate leaders will now probably break the bill up into smaller parts to try to pass some legislation to increase jobs.



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