Jim Wiesemeyer, Washington policy analyst for ProFarmer and Farm Journal, offered his perspective on the agriculture and protein sector both domestically and internationally as the keynote speaker at U.S. Meat Export Federation’s (USMEF) Virtual Spring Conference on May 26.
As the U.S. and the world are vaccinated, both Wiesemeyer and USMEF stated it would be good for the protein sector.
“The importance of the U.S. world economy to agriculture is so important, especially to the meat sector because we’re export driven,” Wiesemeyer said. “So, this is going to help the protein world with the growth in your protein exports out of this great country.”
With regards to trade, Wiesemeyer praised Katherine Tai, U.S. trade representative, for her help in writing the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) and for her forte in trade enforcement. Wiesemeyer stressed that her office would look at the USMCA as it pertains to the dairy industry with Canada and labor and GMO issues with Mexico.
Additionally, there are trade agreements that need to be negotiated with the United Kingdom and Kenya. Wiesemeyer believes the Biden administration will enter into negotiations on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The China Phase One agreement will also probably get a “top to bottom review.” Wiesemeyer noted that China has bought a considerable amount of corn recently and will continue to do so. He stated China had fulfilled 50 of the 57 commitments in the agreement.
Other potential issues with China, Wiesemeyer noted, were President Joe Biden’s “get tough on the nation” stance regarding the South China Sea and Taiwan. He noted that the Office of the United States Trade Representative does need to fill its team with negotiators.
Wiesemeyer stated he covered Washington, D.C. since the ’70s and has seen many changes, but more so in the last two administrations. Still, significant changes are being pushed in the Biden administration.
The Biden administration has proposed close to $6 trillion in spending programs, according to Wiesemeyer. He believes it is in anticipation of the 2022 elections and the possibility the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives due to census redistricting changes.
With the infrastructure proposals by the Biden administration, Wiesemeyer stated we have begun to see compromise in some of the spending amounts with counterproposals by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He believes that not enough Democrats will “buy into” the proposed tax changes on capital gains and 1031 Exchanges. However, he sees that an infrastructure package will come to fruition as the U.S. needs a comparative advantage on our waterways, railroads and ports.
Regarding domestic spending on agriculture, Wiesemeyer stated never has he seen since the Nixon administration all government agencies focused on a single agenda. In the case of the Biden administration, it is on climate and the environment.
“The U.S. whole of government approach is they’re going to throw trillions of dollars on climate change and that’s why farm groups want a seat at the table; they smell money in this one,” said Wiesemeyer.
Wiesemeyer stated there are too many questions to be answered with policies regarding climate change and its impact on agriculture. With the lack of specific details regarding the 30x30 proposal, Wiesemeyer did not want to comment. However, he noted substantial changes would occur with the increase in funding for conservation programs and the Commodity Credit Corporation.
Wiesemeyer sees conservation funding not only happening in the infrastructure package but also in the farm bill. He also anticipates the Environmental Protection Agency addressing renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel along with the administration’s look at electric vehicles.
Wiesemeyer briefly addressed the potential of the Biden administration to investigate the four meatpackers.
“I would say that you have one person to watch on this one and listen to: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). She heads up the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She recently wrote an over 600-page book on antitrust...So, if she comes off and mentions antitrust issues in the meat industry, watch out,” Wiesemeyer stated.
He noted the letter sent by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD-At Large) asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to continue the Department of Justice investigation into the meatpackers. Wiesemeyer stated it would take a consensus of the cattle organizations for there to be any movement on the investigation.
Wiesemeyer said the livestock pricing issue is a complex matter, stating that “legislating market pricing is not a guarantee of addressing the problem,” when referring to bills introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Wiesemeyer briefly touched on country-of-origin labeling, stating that he does not see it coming back as a policy despite the threat of World Trade Organization retaliation.
“But I will tell you logic does not work in this town [Washington, D.C.] any longer and Biden is pushed in many ways and could be pushed on this one.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor