USCA keeps tabs on national issues affecting US beef producers
Torrington – At the Feb. 1 Customer Appreciation Day of Torrington Livestock, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Executive Vice President Jess Peterson spoke on the current issues in which his organization is involved on behalf of the nation’s cattle producers.
“U.S. Cattlemen’s Association was started in 2007. A lot of what U.S. Cattlemen’s stands for goes back to the old American National Cattlemen’s Association – looking at trade, domestic issues, packer and marketing concentration, and what all that means. You have to be able to utilize the system – Washington. D.C., Capitol Hill and the agencies, and you also have to be able to build dialog across the board. Build consensus and stand tall on your principles and merits, but be willing to reach across the aisle and work with different entities, and I’m really proud of our outfit for what they’ve got going on in that way. We’re team players and work well with organizations to carry out that focused message on the cow-calf sector and the independent feeders,” explained Peterson of the USCA.
“It has been an interesting session already, with the Republican majority in the House, the Democrats holding on to a very slim margin in the Senate, and, of course, a Democratic White House,” he noted of the current situation in Washington.
“We’re seeing a lot of work coming out of the agencies, for better or worse, and we’re focusing on that. For the Obama administration, some agencies we’re really monitoring are the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With the climate bill not being passed, there is now a lot of push for the EPA to find other alternatives to regulating greenhouse gases, all types of emissions, waste, you name it,” explained Peterson.
He added the EPA has been very aggressive in moving forward, but now with the change in the House leadership that may change. Chairman Frank Lucas from Oklahoma has made oversight of the EPA one of his top issues.
“Look to see a lot more hearings where EPA will have to defend what they’re doing, and how it affects rural America, agriculture and business,” noted Peterson.
“Also watch the Department of the Interior. Right around Christmas you saw the Wilderness Lands Declaration sneak through. Look to see Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington, and the incoming chairman of the House Resources Committee, he’ll call on the BLM and Department of the Interior for some oversight.
“Those are some things you can look to from the state of Wyoming with some optimism,” said Peterson.
He listed the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office as two areas that consist of phenomenal individuals who do a great job.
“The U.S Trade Representatives Office is maintaining dialog with China on trade market outlooks and where we’re going. U.S. trade representatives met with China and are working on a deal we can actually implement, and whatever those specs are we’ll make sure it works.
“The big, huge one that all of agriculture is united on is the Korean Free Trade Agreement (FTA). That’s a 45 percent tariff on meat products going into Korea, and we’ve utilized the FTA to work on the components so we can keep our beef going. The BSE specs we had to trade under were pretty aggressive, and we’ve worked to get those more harmonized so we don’t have disruptions. We’re very close on this; there are a few other components we’re working on with the White House. Max Baucus from Montana is chairman of the Finance Committee and is involved in making sure all the fine print, if you will, is worked out so that when this FTA comes up before Congress we can get it ratified.
“Make no mistake, there will be the labor unions – the typical opponents to agreements like these – so we’ll have to work across the board to get this FTA ratified. Also keep in mind that the White House won’t send it over to the Senate Finance Committee until they have the votes. This is because an FTA, negotiated on the fast track, has a timeline, which means that once it’s introduced to Congress it has to advance. If it doesn’t it will expire, and if it doesn’t hit the right time frame it will automatically die. It’s important to have the votes lined up from the White House, the House and the Senate,” explained Peterson.
“We will be involved in that, and I think by late spring or summer you should see that moving down the lines. That’s a good thing,” he added.
“We’re strong supporters of country of origin labeling. We’re strong supporters of the ability to identify our domestically produced product, and Congress, as you know, held strong and got that law passed in the Farm Bill,” said Peterson.
“It takes a lot of effort to get common sense to cross over the Potomac. In this case we got Congress, and it took everything, to cross the Potomac and move that bill into law. But here’s the next level – now Canada and Mexico have responded in the World Trade Organization (WTO) with a court case against us – a U.S. domestic law. So, this time we took this clear across the ocean to Geneva, Switzerland, where the WTO met to discuss the outcome of our law,” explained Peterson.
He added that Leo McDonnell and the U.S. Cattlemen’s were actively involved in two rounds of verbal discussion on the issue, and a decision is expected in July. “Whatever the outcome, either side will appeal,” concluded Peterson.