Negotiators from Canada, Mexico and the United States have begun their seventh round of discussions for a new, or modernized, North American Free Trade Agreement. And while the dissolution of NAFTA seemed very likely several months ago, negotiations are still alive. To this point, results of the trilateral discussions have been mixed — consensus on some changes, but continued disagreement on issues such as dispute resolution and “rules of origin” that could ultimately block a new deal from being reached. According to Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, the big question right now is this: “Do the political leaders want to come to an agreement by late March?” If not, NAFTA discussions may halt because of Mexico’s pending presidential election. Greenwood sees three possible scenarios.1) Reach an agreement in the areas in most need of change, declare that NAFTA has been modernized, and conclude discussions. 2) Announce that there are no plans to tear up NAFTA, but that the agreement needs a comprehensive review and update. Under this scenario, negotiators would continue at their own pace.
3) The United States withdraws from NAFT0317-MI-brownfieldsA and tries to reach separate bilateral trade agreements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the decision to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published on January 19, 2017. The rule would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers. The withdrawal becomes effective May 13, 2018. Significant policy and legal issues were identified after the rule published in January 2017. After careful review and two rounds of public comment, USDA has determined that the rule exceeds the Department’s statutory authority, and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers.
A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for causing recurring flooding that damaged farms and property in four Midwest states along the Missouri River. The ruling Tuesday in Washington says the government must compensate farmers, landowners and business owners for the flood damage in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The damage has been estimated to exceed $300 million.More than 300 farmers, landowners and business owners argued in the lawsuit filed in 2014 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that the Corps has altered its practices regarding the river's water storage, release and flow management. The suit contended the Corps unconstitutionally deprived plaintiffs of their land, essentially taking it without compensation. Judge Nancy B. Firestone found in favor of the plaintiffs in five of the six years that the flooding was claimed dating back to 2007, disallowing the flood claims in 2011.
In a major setback for Republicans, the House rejected “right-to-try” legislation that would have allowed seriously ill patients to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to get access to experimental treatments. The vote came after a spirited debate in which GOP lawmakers portrayed the measure, which was strongly backed by President Trump and Vice President Pence, as a last chance at survival for desperately ill patients. Democrats said the bill would weaken critical FDA protections without addressing the fundamental obstacles to experimental drugs. More than 75 patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Association, had sent a letter to House leaders saying the bill “would not increase access to promising therapies” because it didn't deal with the main barriers to experimental drugs — the cost of drugs and company restrictions on making therapies available outside of clinical trials.
A fight over how tough to make work requirements in the food stamp program is already threatening to derail the House farm bill, which some see as one of the only shots for bipartisan legislation this year. Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee publicly revolted last week after learning that Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) was eyeing stricter work requirements for some 8 million recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, widely known as food stamps. Now, some influential conservatives are saying the bill may not go far enough to restrict access, especially since Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House.
The UK government has told Scottish and Welsh ministers they are likely to be barred from controlling policy in areas such as genetically modified crops, fishing quotas and farm payments after Brexit. Mike Russell, Scotland’s Brexit minister, accused Westminster of undermining the constitution after the Cabinet Office published a list of 24 areas it said were likely to need UK-wide common agreements when EU powers were repatriated.The office said it wanted to centralise control at UK level in 12 areas, including migrant access to welfare benefits, state aid for key industries, data protection, energy labelling, internet security and radioactive materials.
The U.S. Education Department issued guidance Friday informing state regulators to back off the companies managing its $1.3 trillion portfolio of student loans, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to oversee its contractors.“State regulation of the servicing of direct loans impedes uniquely federal interests,” the department wrote. “State regulation of the servicing of the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”The notice arrives as states have stepped in to fill what many see as a void in the federal oversight of student loan servicers, the companies the Department of Education pays nearly $1 billion to handle debt payments. The move has created great consternation within the industry, which has lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress to prevent states from imposing additional rules and regulations. Now the department is taking action, but some legal experts say the declaration is a hollow gesture.
The legislation would exempt farms from a law spawned by careless handling of industrial waste in the 1970s. The bill, however, leaves open the possibility that producers will someday have to report the volume of gases released by livestock under a different law inspired by the 1984 chemical leak in Bopal, India, that killed up to 20,000 people. Farm groups had sought to exempt producers from both laws, commonly referred to by their acronyms, CERCLA and EPCRA.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an ethics waiver to one of Pruitt’s political appointees, John Konkus, to let him work for unknown outside private clients. These clients, and their political or commercial interests, won’t be divulged, raising troubling questions about possible conflicts of interest. He is now one of two employees in senior EPA leadership positions allowed to earn $135,000+ government salaries while also drawing paychecks from outside clients that may have a direct stake in EPA’s work. The second ethics waiver Pruitt cleared this week was for Patrick Davis, a political appointee in EPA’s Denver office who owns a Republican political consulting firm. Davis will be allowed to “solicit prospective clients” as he continues to receive his taxpayer salary.
Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced USDA is hosting a series of monthly roundtables on opioids through the summer. “The opioid epidemic in rural communities is more than a public health issue,” Hazlett said. “This is a matter of rural prosperity. Opioid misuse is impacting the quality of life and economic well-being in small towns, which is why partnering with rural leaders to address this crisis is critical to the future of rural America.”Beginning this month, Hazlett will convene regional roundtables to bring together partners in five states to raise awareness and better understand what support rural communities need to address opioid misuse. Key topics will include challenges associated with substance use disorder; strategies for prevention, treatment and recovery; and how these measures can be replicated to effectively address the epidemic in other rural communities.