Apr 5, 2021Vilsack willing to use USMCA deal in US-Mexico potatoes dispute
The news radio outlet AgInfo.net posted April 1 USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent comments about utilizing the USMCA to enforce U.S. trade rights should the Mexican Supreme Court decline to rule in the U.S. potato industry’s favor on the longstanding issue of full U.S. fresh potato access.
In the story, reporter Bob Larson said, “American potato growers have been waiting patiently for the Mexican Supreme Court to rule on that countries’ ban on U.S. fresh potato imports, without much news of late. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he spoke recently with Mexico’s Ag Secretary Villalobos who seemed optimistic a positive ruling would be coming soon, but adds if it doesn’t …”
Secretary Vilsack responded: “Then the second process that we engage in is correspondence with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. And, I’ll have an opportunity (the week of March 30-April 3) to visit with the newly confirmed trade ambassador (Catherine Tai) to encourage her to do what I think she’s already inclined to do, which is to make sure that there is enforcement of the terms and conditions and the spirit of the USMCA.”
The full segment can be found here.
Senators need to drum up Republican support for farm labor bill
Bloomberg reported recently that legislation to reform the broken foreign ag labor program and allow agricultural workers to earn legal status “has the potential to break through a partisan logjam in the Senate — if the measure gets revised to address Republican concerns about business liabilities and caps on year-round visas.”
The House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), on March 18, with 30 Republicans voting “yea.” Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have said they plan to introduce the bill’s companion in the upper chamber.
“There’s reason for some optimism in this Congress as Senator Crapo and Senator Bennet’s statement that they would introduce a bill is something that wasn’t possible in 2020,” said RJ Andrus, National Potato Council (NPC) VP of Legislative and Government Affairs. “We need to do everything we can to reform the guestworker program and prevent the federal government from increasing wages up to 20% annually in some cases.”
The news outlet reported that supporters of the legislation will need to attract Senate Republicans “who see a greater priority in stemming the growing numbers of immigrants coming over the border with Mexico.”
Although the bill has the backing many farm and food trade groups, including the National Potato Council, some Senate Republican leaders remain pessimistic on the bill’s outlook. Most notably, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Ranker John Boozman (R-Arkansas) said this week that “now is not the time to take up this bill given the ongoing crisis at our southern border. Our discussions on immigration must focus on ending the humanitarian crisis and securing the border before we move any other legislation that pertains to this issue,” reported Bloomberg.
NPC weighs in on possible transportation reform
In a letter issued March 30 to Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the National Potato Council (NPC) joined dozens of national and regional agricultural organizations to offer its support of broad-based funding mechanisms in future transportation reauthorization bills.
“Large volumes of commodities and agricultural products are transported from mostly rural areas to numerous origin-destination pairs before these goods reach domestic consumers and export customers. Because of this, a well-maintained, efficient and safe freight transportation system is vitally important to U.S. agriculture,” the group wrote.
However, the organizations cautioned that they would oppose any proposals — should they be offered — to fund a transportation reauthorization bill by disproportionately burdening freight transportation, such as through a truck-only vehicle miles tax.
The group wrote that “a truck-only vehicle miles tax would increase truck transportation costs, leading to lower farmgate prices and reduced market share for U.S. agriculture versus our foreign competitors. We urge you to include broad-based funding mechanisms to ensure all who benefit from the transportation system contribute fairly to upgrading and maintaining America’s roads and bridges.”
Find the full letter here.
NPC seeks grower support
The deadline to join the 2021 Grower Supporter campaign is fast approaching. Renew your support by April 9 to help amplify the potato industry’s voice in Washington, D.C. and be listed in the 2021 Potato Yearbook.
Click here to register your support.
Each year, the Grower Supporter campaign provides NPC with resources to promote and protect the potato industry’s interests in Washington, D.C. One of the tools recently launched to help do this is with the Eye on Potatoes: A Podcast on All Things Potatoes. The podcast features stories about how federal policy impacts potato farming and the important role the NPC plays in standing up for potatoes on Capitol Hill.
If you haven’t already, subscribe and listen today on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms.
— National Potato Council