Steve Dittmer Asks- Can the Senate Cross the Finish Line on COOL Retaliation?Wed, 09 Dec 2015 04:55:06 CST
The following is an "op-ed" written by veteran livestock industry advocate Steve Dittmer, who is the Executive Vice President for the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation. Over the lifetime of the Country of Origin debate, Dittmer has written extensively about what has proven to be a very divisive issue for the beef and pork industries.
"The horses are coming down the last furlong, the finish line in sight. The question is, will the winner sweep under the wire...or is there a trap door lined up to swallow the whole field?
"When it comes to mCOOL retaliation, the Senate has placed the meat industry plus other industries and jobs in just such a position. Time is running out to avoid that pit, with a beaten up cattle market in no position to weather another shock. The overall economy, expected to manage a tepid Christmas season at best, needs no Stupid Senate Tricks to threaten trade and jobs right before the holiday. The august upper house can blame no one but themselves. Everyone knew this was coming and the House took care of business months ago. Only the Senate's failure to act has brought on this crisis.
"There is only a few days of floor time left -- and the Senate is already behind schedule in assembling what should not even be allowed -- an omnibus spending bill instead of the 13 separate spending bills Congress is supposed to execute as one of their main tasks. Fixing mCOOL and over 50 tax extenders are just some of the items on the Senate's "Not Done" list, if Santa's checking.
"Meanwhile, not only America's meat industry, but livestock industries and trade in general from two other countries, Canada and Mexico, are waiting on the Senate, too. Neither Canada nor Mexico want to impose retaliatory tariffs on incoming U.S. meat products nor the rest of the items on the list. Almost no one in all three countries wants to disrupt trade and markets between three of the world's largest economies.
"It's only the world's greatest, non-deliberative body that has, as a body done nothing, and as embodied in certain individuals, displayed a poor grasp of the situation swelling to downright hostility towards the American meat industry.
"Congress as a whole has hardly covered itself with glory in handling the mCOOL law. It was told before, during and after debate, that the law would neither accomplish its goals nor pass muster with the world's trading organization, the WTO. They went ahead anyway, listening to populist farm and activist groups hostile to trade, heeding a false and misleading argument regarding food safety and forcing upon everyone an identity crisis only a few consumers cared about and a big set of costs no consumer wanted to pay.
"After the fourth ruling against the U.S., even the USDA, who had been assigned the unenviable task of putting into law what couldn't be put into law, trying to accomplish what the unrealistic ones insisted on and still satisfy international trade law, threw in the towel. Secretary Vilsack told Congress even the barrel of lawyers they had at USDA couldn't do the impossible. The ball was in Congress' court.
"The House could read the handwriting on the wall and got the job done in a couple weeks. With the horses at the head of the homestretch, certain senators started talking about rewriting the law, akin to changing the matings that produced the horses in the race.
"The law, two rulings against the regulations written by USDA to carry it out, a re-write of the regulations to "fix" them, two more rulings against the re-written regulations, the long process preparing for retaliation because Congress preferred to ignore international procedure and hang the livestock and meat industry out to dry -- and the Senate wants to go back to the drawing board.
"As we said at the beginning, the horses are nearing the finish line. There are only two options: a) repeal the misguided law or b) allow retaliation to happen, damaging markets and jobs across the U.S. economy and wrecking trade. The Senate can only choose to exercise option a). If it does not, the decision to exercise options b) is in the hands of the governments of Canada and Mexico. The arbitrator has decided in favor of Canada and Mexico, to the tune of over $1 billion in tariffs. At a 100 percent tariff, trade in certain American meats, as well as a carefully selected lists of other products, will likely cease. If the countries choose to utilize a carousel procedure, they can rotate which products are hammered in a certain time period, keep changing the products and spread the pain further.
"Frankly, we can't understand why any senator would want to unleash that kind of chaos on our trade with two of our most important trading partners and our only adjacent neighbors. If the senators take just a few minutes to understand the only two options they have, as outlined above, surely no promises to fringe, unrealistic groups would outweigh the fate of major industries and deliberate damage to the U.S. economy."
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