USMCA: In a joint statement following the second USMCA Free Trade Commission, USMCA trade ministers said they will establish a trinational panel to address unexpected market and economic disruptions in the three countries. The USMCA Competitiveness Committee is directed “to complete, within 90 days, negotiations on the establishment of a sub-committee to cooperate during emergency situations in order to maintain, re-establish, or otherwise address issues related to the flow of trade between the Parties.”
Separately, in the bilateral meeting with Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier, USTR Katherine Tai raised concerns about Mexico’s investment climate, including its “energy policies that continue to threaten US investment and damage Mexico’s efforts to address climate change,” according to a USTR readout.
Section 301 Tariffs: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo confirmed over the weekend President Biden has directed administration trade officials to weigh China tariff policy options, including lifting some tariffs to ease domestic inflation. Meanwhile the AFL-CIO and other U.S. labor groups are urging the administration to maintain existing section 301 duties as USTR reviews its request for comments on the first batches of the Trump-era tariffs.
Biden Nominees: Nearly 100 food and agriculture organizations called for the swift confirmation of Doug McKalip for the long-vacant position of Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). In a letter sent to Senate Finance Committee leadership, the organizations said they “enthusiastically support” McKalip and that he is “capable of addressing the critical need to open and maintain foreign market access and reduce barriers for US food and agriculture workers and exporters for the benefit of consumers in the US and across the globe.”
WTO: Twelve House Republicans are urging the Biden administration to pursue a WTO dispute settlement complaint regarding India’s agriculture subsidies. In a July 1st letter, the lawmakers request the administration proceed to “filing a formal request for consultations with India at the WTO and to continue monitoring other WTO member’s domestic support programs that undermine fair trade practices.”
U.S. – New Zealand: The State Department’s updated “integrated country strategy” (ICS) for New Zealand calls for progress on a free trade agreement with New Zealand to mitigate deepening its reliance on China and for deepening U.S. economic relations with New Zealand.
“Our priority has always been ensuring that U.S. softwood lumber producers can compete on a level playing field.” “Subsidized lumber and dumped imports undermine their ability to compete fairly.”
— USTR Katherine Tai commenting on calls to lift Canadian lumber tariffs to ease U.S. inflation.
Trade ministers launch trinational group to respond to trade disruptions
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and her counterparts, Canadian Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development Mary Ng and Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier, affirmed that “North American competitiveness underpins the future prosperity, security and sustainability of all three countries,” according to a joint statementfollowing the second USMCA Free Trade Commission. The ministers “recognized that integrated supply chains are a competitive advantage for North America and that maintaining trade flows in emergency situations is essential for all three countries,” the statement continued. The three trade officials have instructed the USMCA Competitiveness Committee “to complete, within 90 days, negotiations on the establishment of a sub-committee to cooperate during emergency situations in order to maintain, re-establish, or otherwise address issues related to the flow of trade between the Parties,” as described in the statement. They called on the panel to set up “a working group under that Sub-Committee to coordinate on a shared understanding of critical infrastructure priorities.”
The trade ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to uphold workers’ rights and environmental provisions as set out in the USMCA. Further, the three countries agreed to “hold a Deputies meeting before the end of this year to assess progress on the areas highlighted” during the Free Trade Commission meetings and “identify ongoing opportunities for future engagement.”
USTR considering all tools on Mexico energy policy concerns
Following the trilateral meetings of the USMCA trade leaders, USTR Katherine Tai said she voiced U.S. concerns regarding Mexico’s energy policies at a bilateral meeting with Mexican Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier. “We will continue to raise our concerns,” she told reporters. “I have made very clear that all options are on the table and we will continue to explore those options,” a reference to USMCA’s dispute settlement mechanism among other trade tools. In the bilateral meeting with Ms. Clouthier, Ms. Tai raised concerns about Mexico’s investment climate, including its “energy policies that continue to threaten US investment and damage Mexico’s efforts to address climate change,” according to a USTR readout.
Canada urges Biden to lift lumber tariffs to fight inflation
On the sidelines USMCA Free Trade Commission, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng pressed for the Biden administration to eliminate U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber exports to fight domestic inflation. “I think something that could easily be done here is to lift the tariffs on softwood lumber,” Ng said speaking to reporters.
Ng recently met with the National Association of Home Builders and noted the association is pushing for both countries to renew a deal to suspend the tariffs. “They are keen to see us make some progress here because they are dealing with affordability prices for American families.” Ambassador Katherine Tai responded, “Our priority has always been ensuring that U.S. softwood lumber producers can compete on a level playing field.” “Subsidized lumber and dumped imports undermine their ability to compete fairly.”
The bilateral lumber trade dispute goes back several decades as the U.S. has charged Canada with unfairly subsidizing domestic softwood lumber exports, a charge Canada rejects. The current tariffs went into effected during the Trump administration after U.S. and Canadian negotiators could not strike a deal to extend the agreement that expired late in the Obama administration.
Canada exempt from U.S. solar tariffs
The U.S. and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to settle a dispute on trade in solar products. The U.S. currently has safeguard tariffs in place on solar products that were imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The duties were set to expire in February 2022 before Biden extended them for another four years. As part of that action, however, President Biden instructed USTR to enter into negotiations with Canada and Mexico to pursue an exemption for both countries.
Mary Ng, Canada’s trade minister, said in a statement: “This agreement will bring stability and predictability to our renewable energy sector and strengthen North American competitiveness.
USTR Tai in her statement said: “Reaching this settlement with Canada will promote greater deployment of solar energy in the United States using products from one of our closet allies, and foster a more resilient North American supply chain for clean energy products made without forced labor.”
Biden and AMLO to meet at White House
President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are scheduled to meet July 12th at the White House to discuss bilateral issues such as “food security, and discuss joint competitiveness initiatives, such as work being undertaken in the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue,” according to a statement. Mexico’s energy policies, a likely subject of discussion, have been the center of a variety of complaints by industry stakeholders and lawmakers.
Section 301 & 232 Tariffs
USTR receives multiple requests for tariff extensions
As required by the Section 301 statute, the duties former President Trump imposed on Chinese goods are to be terminated after four years unless USTR receives a request for them to be extended. The first group of 301 tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods expired on July 6th and the second group on $16 billion will expire on August 23rd. Setting two deadlines for submissions, USTR has received 263 submissions for the request period that ended on July 5th and has received another 64 submissions for the August 22nd request period.
According to the Federal Register notice about the submissions, the statutory review of the tariffs has begun on the first batch. USTR has automatically continued the tariffs it has received a request to extend and will soon solicit public comments on whether to reduce them or not.
Labor groups seek universal tariff renewal
USTR’s private sector Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), which includes representatives from the AFL-CIO, Steelworkers Union and other major U.S. labor groups, last month called for renewal of all the duties in its submission to USTR.
“The members of the LAC are united in the view that the overall level and the individually identified tariffs imposed on China pursuant to the 301 actions should be extended,” the committee said. “Many tariffs imposed represent interests directly impacting individual union members. Other tariffs support the overall level of retaliation that is appropriate to respond to China’s unfair, predatory, and protectionist trade policies.”
Biden administration wrestles with China tariff strategy
The Biden administration continues to grapple with the expected action to lift some tariffs on China to tackle inflation without losing U.S. leverage to compel China to change its alleged unfair trade practices. Over the weekend Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo confirmed the administration is heavily weighing its tariff policy options. “We are looking at it. In fact, the president has asked us on his team to analyze that. And so we are in the process of doing that for him and he will have to make that decision,” Raimondo told CNN during a Sunday interview. “There are other products — household goods, bicycles, etc. — and it may make sense” to weigh lifting tariffs on those products, she said, noting the administration may elect to maintain tariffs on steel and aluminum to protect U.S. workers and the steel industry. Raimondo cautioned observers to temper expectations that targeted tariff reductions will equate to large declines in inflation given the size and complexity of the U.S. economy.
Several reports have suggested President Biden’s revised approach to the inherited Trump-era section 301 tariffs on China could involve multiple components.
The administration could lift tariffs on a narrow set of consumer goods (e.g., bicycles) to ease inflationary pressures and respond to advocates for tariff removal.
Opening a new section 301 exclusion process, allowing stakeholders impacted to petition for tariff relief is also under consideration. Earlier this year USTR granted tariff relief for 352 types of imports from China, but industry groups and lawmakers have urged USTR to expand the exemptions. Ambassador Katherine Tai has consistently characterized the tariffs as leverage with China, which she said the U.S. must not forgo.
Additionally, USTR may initiate a new section 301 investigation around concerns with China’s subsidies of key competitive sectors, such as high-tech sectors (e.g., semiconductors and lithium batteries) that unfairly disadvantage foreign competition. A section 301 investigation could pave the way for new tariffs on such sectors in an effort to level the playing field for American firms to counter China’s subsidization practices.
Neary 100 food and agriculture groups call for swift McKalip confirmation
Last week nearly 100 food and agriculture organizations called for the Senate Finance Committee to expeditiously move on the nomination of Doug McKalip for the long-vacant position of Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). In a letter addressed to Finance Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking Republican Mike Crapo (R-ID), the signatories expressed that they “enthusiastically support” McKalip stating, he is “capable of addressing the critical need to open and maintain foreign market access and reduce barriers for US food and agriculture workers and exporters for the benefit of consumers in the US and across the globe.” “We believe he is keenly aware of the importance of trade to agriculture related jobs and its essential role in this Administration’s “worker first” trade agenda,” they wrote.
In a press release, Corn Refiners Association President and CEO John Bode said, “Doug McKalip is an excellent nominee for the critical role of Chief Agricultural Negotiator, especially as the United States needs to increase global trade and secure greater market access for U.S. products.”
On June 8th President Biden announced his intent to nominate Doug McKalip to serve as chief agricultural negotiator at USTR, months after the withdrawal of the prior nominee, Elaine Trevino.
McKalip presently serves as a senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Previously he served in the Obama administration both as an aide to Vilsack and acting chief of staff and as senior adviser for agriculture and rural affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council. He served as director of the White House Rural Council and coordinated the executive branch-wide response to the 2012-2013 drought. McKalip has served in a variety of other roles at USDA, including as confidential assistant to the secretary, and director of legislative and public affairs for the National Resources Conservation Service.
U.S. – China
New legislation to block China purchasing U.S. agriculture companies
The Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act sponsored by Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Rick Crawford (R-AR) would ban Russia, Iran and North Korea, as well as China, from “any merger, acquisition or takeover that would result in foreign control of a U.S. agricultural company.” It would designate agriculture and agricultural biotechnology as critical U.S. infrastructure and add USDA to the nine existing federal agencies comprising The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). CFIUS reviews certain foreign investments and other transactions to determine the impact on U.S. national security.
In joint statement, Representative Stefanick said, “Food security is national security, and I am proud to stand up against our foreign adversaries as they attempt to exploit any potential vulnerability and assert control over our agriculture industry.” “The United States cannot allow malign ownership bids of American assets by China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea to undermine the efforts of our farmers, whose hard work feeds and fuels our communities,” Stefanik continued.
The proposed legislation by several republican lawmakers emerges a week after a House Appropriations Committee voted to prohibit China from purchasing U.S. agriculture land and as the Biden administration contemplates lifting certain section 301 tariffs imposed on China in 2018. Several farm-state lawmakers and agricultural stakeholders have historically sought for USDA to join CFIUS.
Countries listed in the Stefanik-Crawford legislation mirror those spelled out in the House Appropriations Committee bill barring purchasing of U.S. farmland. “As many members of this committee know, China, Russia, North Korea and Iran are not our allies,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA). Also backing the Stefanik-Crawford bill were Republicans Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Austin Scott (R-GA) and Dusty Johnson(R-SD).
Foreign investors owned 37.6 million acres, or 2.9%, of U.S. agricultural land — forest and farmland — at the end of 2020, according to a USDA report. Holdings have increased by an average of nearly 2.2 million acres a year since 2015. Forests accounted for 46% of agricultural land held by foreigners. Some 29% was cropland, and pastures and other ag land accounted for 23%.
GOP senators support House trade provisions over USICA
Five Republicans senators wrote a letter to their colleagues charged with reconciling the China competitiveness bills urging them to reach a deal on trade provision that more closely resemble the House bill rather than the Senate counterpart. The House provisions the five senators support include creating an outbound investment review mechanism, changing de minimis rules, reforming trade remedy regulations, and banning finished goods from inclusion in future Miscellaneous Tariff Bills. They also called on the conferees to exclude several parts of USICA’s trade title, claiming they would weaken the U.S.’ ability to compete with China.
The republican senators are Mike Braun (IN), Kevin Cramer (ND), Dan Sullivan (AK), Rick Scott (FL), and Marco Rubio (FL).
The primary concern is Section 73001 of the USICA bill which “amends the Trade Act of 1974 to create a rigid exclusion process under Section 301 which we fear would eliminate it as a tool to combat unfair and malicious Chinese trade practices.”
Global food prices ease again
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index averaged 154.2 points in June 2022, down 3.7 points (2.3 percent) from May, the third consecutive monthly decline, though still 29.0 points (23.1 percent) above its value in the corresponding month last year. The modest decline was principally due to declines in the vegetable oil, cereals and sugar. Alternatively, dairy and meat price indices increased, according to the FAO. Other highlights from the report include:
The Meat Price Index “averaged 124.7 points in June, up 2.1 points (1.7 percent) from May, setting a new record high and exceeding by 14.0 points (12.7 percent) its June 2021 value. World prices across all meat types increased, with poultry quotations rising sharply, reaching an all-time high, underpinned by the continued tight global supply conditions impacted by the war in Ukraine and the Avian Influenza outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere.”
The Vegetable Oil Price Index “averaged 211.8 points in June, down 17.4 points (7.6 percent) month-on-month, driven by lower prices across palm, sunflower, soy and rapeseed oils. International palm oil prices declined for the third consecutive month in June, as seasonally rising output of major producing countries coincided with prospects of increasing export supplies from Indonesia amid large domestic inventories.”
The Dairy Price Index “averaged 149.8 points in June, up 5.9 points (4.1 percent) from May and as much as 29.9 points (24.9 percent) above its June 2021 value. In June, international prices of all dairy products increased.”
U.S. overall trade deficit narrows in May
The U.S. deficit for goods and services declined 1.3% in May as imports continued to decelerate. The deficit declined $1.1. billion, from $86.7 billion April to $85.5 billion in May, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. May exports were $255.9 billion, $3.0 billion more than April exports. May imports were $341.4 billion, $1.9 billion more than April imports. The May decrease in the goods and services deficit reflected a decrease in the goods deficit of $2.9 billion to $105.0 billion and a decrease in the services surplus of $1.7 billion to $19.4 billion.
Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $126.5 billion, or 38.4 percent, from the same period in 2021. Exports increased $197.1 billion or 19.4 percent. Imports increased $323.6 billion or 24.0 percent.
The average goods and services deficit decreased $0.9 billion to $93.3 billion for the three months ending in May. Average exports increased $7.7 billion to $251.0 billion in May. Average imports increased $6.9 billion to $344.2 billion in May.
Logistics costs easing from peak levels
The Logistics Managers’ Index, an indicator of U.S. supply-chain pressure, declined to the lowest level in two years, driven by a sharp drop in transportation costs. The index declined to 65 in June, the third consecutive decline since posting a record of 76.2 reached in March and the lowest level since July 2020. The index, comprised of transport, inventory, and warehousing costs, suggests a slowing U.S. economy going into the third and fourth quarters of 2022. June’s index level was the first time since mid-2020 that the index registered below the all-time average, currently at 65.3.
U.S. – New Zealand
State Department envisions New Zealand trade agreement
The State Department’s updated “integrated country strategy” (ICS) for New Zealand calls for progress on a free trade agreement with New Zealand to mitigate deepening its reliance on China. As part of the strategy for deepening economic relations with New Zealand the ICS notes the need to increase New Zealand foreign direct investment in the U.S. so the country can “diversify its economy away from the PRC and toward the United States as the partner of choice in the innovation field.” “Lack of tangible progress toward a free trade agreement could deepen New Zealand’s reliance on the PRC. Failed talks could anger the New Zealand public or lead to charges of U.S. protectionism and hypocrisy,” the document noted. While IPEF is lauded by the administration as a way to reassert U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region, IPEF eschews market access (e.g., tariff reductions) and the administration has maintained a policy of not pursuing new comprehensive trade agreements, declining to re-engage on CPTPP, or previously opened negotiations with the U.K. and Kenya.
The New Zealand ICS includes several goals and objectives related to the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), including “sustainable and inclusive economic growth.” The New Zealand ICS was updated in April and published in July. “Bilaterally, Mission New Zealand should focus on market access for U.S. companies in New Zealand, while reinforcing business-to-business ties and supply chain diversity,” it says. “We should also continue to promote free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and open shipping lanes. The State Department ICS documents outline four-year strategies for U.S. priorities and goals in individual countries.
Separately, on June 30th, the EU and New Zealand concluded a Free Trade Agreement that would slash much of the remaining tariffs between the two trading partners, after four years of negotiations. “This trade agreement brings major opportunities for our companies, our farmers and our consumers, on both sides,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
House Republican group urges USTR to file WTO challenge to India’s ag subsidies
Representatives Tracey Mann (R-KS) and Rick Crawford (R-AR), joined by 10 other republican colleagues, are calling on the Biden administration to pursue a WTO dispute settlement complaint regarding India’s agriculture subsidies. In a July 1st letter, the lawmakers requested the administration proceed to “filing a formal request for consultations with India at the WTO and to continue monitoring other WTO member’s domestic support programs that undermine fair trade practices.”
The letter notes that “Current WTO rules allow governments to subsidize up to 10 [percent] of the value of production for a particular commodity and still export that subsidized commodity without fault,” the lawmakers contend. “However, for years, the Indian government has abused WTO rules and subsidized more than half of the value of production for rice and wheat.” The letter further notes India’s pursuit of trade distorting subsidies policies was infused in the recent WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) when India “proposed an unlimited allowance of trade distorting price supports tied to public stockholding and subsidies.” “The proposal disregards WTO rules on agricultural domestic support” and left unchecked “could disproportionally disadvantage American producers,” the lawmakers wrote.
The July 1st letter follows a January letter led by Representatives Mann and Crawford to Ambassador Katherine Tai and Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to hold India accountable under the WTO rules, particularly regarding wheat and rice production.
U.S. officials previously cited concerns surrounding India subsidizes for certain commodities, especially rice and wheat, exceeding WTO permitted levels. The U.S., joined by Canada, in 2019 submitted a WTO notification alleging that India’s domestic support programs regularly exceed WTO thresholds.
WTO delays ruling on Trump’s steel tariffs
The WTO again extend it long awaited decision regarding the legality of U.S. section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs imposed in 2018 under the prior administration. The WTO now expects to render a decision by “no earlier” than the last quarter of 2022, according to the chair of the panel reviewing the case. China, India, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey filed complaints with the dispute settlement unit that the U.S. tariffs were in violation of WTO rules. The EU, Canada and Mexico also challenged Trump-era section 232 tariffs, but dropped their complaints after reaching individual agreements with the U.S.
WTO grants extension on U.S. – Korea washers dispute
Last week at a special meeting, WTO members agreed to a request to extend the date for adoption of a dispute panel ruling that faulted the U.S. for imposing global safeguard duties on large residential washers from Korea. The U.S. and Korea jointly requested that the Dispute Settlement Body extend the deadline for adopting the report to Oct. 5th.
In a sign the additional time could lead to a resolution of the dispute, the U.S. said, “We consider that the draft DSB decision, if adopted, would facilitate the resolution of the dispute.” “The United States remains open to further discussions with Korea on the way forward in this dispute.”
Last February the WTO ruled largely in favor of South Korea’s claims that the U.S. measure did not fully accord with WTO rules. Under WTO rules parties in a dispute have 60 days to have the report adopted or to appeal. The U.S. and Korea sought – and were granted – more time in April, which expired last week.
Actions on MC12 outcomes urged at Heads of Delegation meeting
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged members during a Heads of Delegation meeting to start focusing now on the implementation of MC12 outcomes. One item especially discussed was the agriculture negotiations, in which DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the current approach “is not working” due to the inability for members to agree on a work program for future negotiations. Another immediate goal is achieving the acceptance of two-thirds of members on the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies to enter into force. As the TRIPS waiver has been extended for 6 months, the DG noted that discussions for this have already started in the Council on TRIPS.
Indo- Pacific Economic Framework
Report recommends governing council for IPEF success
No significant updates since a recent CSIS a report suggested IPEF should include a formal administrative structure offering “clear form and function.” The report authors recommend that the U.S. create an IPEF Coordinating Council, “a new administrative body” that could become “the most effective way for the Biden administration to ensure that the IPEF succeeds.” The report, which focuses on the four IPEF pillars, noted that in the trade pillar analysis the “administration’s ongoing reluctance to pursue market access” creates a “burden” for the U.S. to entice trade partners to pursue central tenants of the framework, such as environmental sustainability.
USTR invites public comment on forced labor strategy
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) issued a notice seeking public input on development of a forced labor trade strategy. The Federal Register notice indicates that the strategy “will identify priorities and establish an action plan for utilizing existing and potential new trade tools to combat forced labor in traded goods and services.” In the notice USTR invites commentors to address the following questions:
What actions could the U.S. government pursue with like-minded trade partners and allies to combat forced labor as an unfair trade practice?
How can the U.S. government bolster the forced labor components of trade agreements and trade preference programs to have greater effect?
What new and innovative trade tools can the U.S. government develop and utilize to advance efforts to combat forced labor in traded goods and services?
How can the U.S. government make the development of trade policy on forced labor a more inclusive process?
Do you have additional recommendations for monitoring, tracing or eliminating forced labor in traded goods and services in supply chains?
The deadline for submitting comments is August 5, 2022. USTR requests that comments be submitted electronically via https://www.regulations.gov.
Ag Economy Barometer
The Ag Economy Barometer weakens modestly
The June Ag Economy Barometer slipped lower to an index reading of 97, the lowest level since April 2020, during the global pandemic, after plummeting 22 points in May. The June 2022 barometer reading marked just the 10th time since data collection began in fall 2015 that the overall measure of farmer sentiment fell below 100. Supply chain issues, rising input costs for farming operations, and increasing concerns on financial operations for farmers continue to drive farmer sentiment lower the past several months.
Over half the survey respondents indicated they expect their farming operations to deteriorate financially over the next 12 months, the most negative response received to this question since data collection began in 2015.
New to the June survey, crop producers were quired on their production plans for next year. Notably, “one out of five crop producers in the June survey said they intend to change their crop mix in 2023 with the largest percentage of respondents planning a move towards more soybean production.”