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New Congress, New Year, Continued Challenges

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The election is over, and the question being asked is “What now?” We’ve dealt with a divided Congress before and have proven we can still be productive. 2019 will be no different.

End of WOTUS

We expect the final Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to be completed, thus ending the nightmare potential of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspectors regulating each body of water on your property. This rule will finally determine where EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Water Act begins and ends, while protecting your property rights.

Transportation Regulation

Transportation regulatory relief regarding electronic logging devices (ELDs) and Department of Transportation’s (DOT) hours of service for commercial haulers will be addressed. Congress passed legislation that exempts livestock haulers from installing ELDs until Sept. 30, 2019, but DOT limits the hours you can drive to 11, which doesn’t cut it when you are hauling feeder cattle from Florida to Oklahoma. This is a matter of animal welfare, so NCBA is pushing DOT to extend those hours to 15, and we have clarified that agriculture is exempt from hours of service within 150 air miles of your first pickup location.

Fake Meat

Sometimes, regulatory action is needed. This is especially true with fake meat. Laboratory-grown fake meat is under development and could make its way into grocery stores within the next five years. The NCBA is working to clearly define the federal government’s role in regulating this product. The USDA needs clear authority to regulate fake meat just like they regulate other meat. While we don’t really like this product, it is coming to market and needs to be inspected. The only option would be to allow FDA to inspect it, but under their system, the fake meat plants would not be inspected each day they are operating. Additionally, USDA will have more control over the labels placed on this product and will prevent the fake meat companies from using the term “clean meat” to describe their product.

Trade Deals

Finally, we expect 2019 to be a big year for trade deals. Congress will ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which takes the place of NAFTA. This is a good deal for U.S. beef producers and will allow for continued access to these important markets. The U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement (KORUS) has been renegotiated and finalized. As a result, we will see South Korea continue to be a hot market for our beef. We are also going to see negotiations between the U.S. and Japan on a trade agreement to take the place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Japan is our top export market, but as a result of TPP, Canada and Australia will have tariffs that are approximately half of ours. They can easily take our market share if we don’t get our own deal done with Japan. Talks will continue to push China to take down their non-tariff trade barriers, such as banning the use of implanted hormones. They must adhere to science and allow beef from the U.S. that has been produced utilizing our proven production practices.

The next year in Washington will present challenges, but there are still plenty of opportunities to relieve the government burden on your operation.

Colin Woodall
National Cattleman’s Beef Association senior vice president of government affairs