#1 - GOVERNORS HEAD TO DC TO TALK NAFTA
Following meetings with anxious ag state Senators earlier this month, the White House hosted equally concerned governors hailing from ag and auto states at two meetings last week.
On Thursday, Vice President Pence, U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue met with the governors of Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Iowa. More HERE.
Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has been at the forefront of organizing efforts to safeguard agriculture in NAFTA, released a statement following the meeting stressing the “do no harm” mantra the ag community has repeated on social media.
The Thursday meeting came on the heels of a Tuesday meeting between the Vice President, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and auto industry executives who have consistently complained to the administration about what they see as overly restrictive U.S. auto rules of origin proposals in NAFTA negotiations.
The takeaway – We hear that not a single Senator or Governor has walked away from the White House NAFTA meetings feeling confident that withdrawal is simply a negotiating tactic and not a real possibility. Most believe that it’s going to take a sustained, daily approach to prevent the President from pulling the trigger on withdrawal.
#2 - NAFTA UPDATE: 2 CHAPTERS DOWN, ONLY 28 TO GO
Bloomberg’s Andrew Mayada has a good wrap-up of the NAFTA “intersessional” talks held in Washington D.C. last week HERE.
His take: The fact that negotiators could not manage to close-out any of the non-controversial chapters portends difficulties for 2018, including a potential make or break round of negotiations in Montreal to be held January 23rd-28th.
#3 - WTO: LITTLE PROGESS IN BUENOS AIRES
There wasn’t much to write home about from Buenos Aires either where trade leaders from the World Trade Organization's 164 member countries met for the 11th biennial ministerial conference. While there had been hope that agreements (which require unanimous consent) could be reached on fisheries subsidies, agricultural stockpiles, or e-commerce commitments, those agreements never materialized and, according to Reuters, the ministerial ended in “discord."
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent out a statement following the meetings that said, in part: “Many members recognized that the WTO must pursue a fresh start in key areas so that like-minded WTO Members and their constituents are not held back by the few Members that are not ready to act.”
The takeaway: Lighthizer’s indication that “like-minded” groups should be free to pursue agreement at a smaller, multilateral level is a continuation of the Obama administration’s approach to the WTO which prioritized agreements among more closely aligned members, such as the Information Technology Agreement and the Environmental Goods Agreement.
Read more from Megan Cassella at POLITICO on the administration take on the WTO HERE.
#4 – E-COMMERCE ‘COALITION OF THE WILLING’ FORMS
In an indication of the move away from global consensus and toward smaller WTO pact, 70 members announced in Buenos Aires that they would begin “exploratory work” to establish global e-commerce rules. The move came after all WTO members could not find a way forward on a larger e-commerce package. The 70 member e-commerce talks will include the US, EU and Russia but won’t include China or India.
Read the Internet Associations statement on the e-commerce announcement HERE.
Or read more from the FT’s Shawn Donnan about all that went down on e-commerce in Argentina and how it could impact the popular phone video game Clash of Clans here:
#5 - SCOTT GARRETT D-DAY: 12.19.17
The Senate Banking Committee officially set the date for the make or break vote on President Trump’s nominee to head the Export-Import Bank for Tuesday 12/19. For Garrett, who can’t afford to lose any Republican votes on the Committee in his quest ot be referred to the full Senate, the outlook does not look good.
Last week POLITICO reported that “Garrett’s fate was all but sealed” when Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota said that he would oppose Garrett’s confirmation. Read more HERE
#6 - ON THE HORIZON: EU-MEXICO TRADE DEAL
In another example of Mexico’s efforts to reduce their dependence on the U.S. market amid NAFTA uncertainties, there are increasing signs that Mexico and the EU will reach a trade deal “in principle,” potentially before the calendar year is up. Both countries will be in talks in Brussels next week and an announcement could be made coming out of those meetings. The two economies have operated under a trade agreement since 2000. A new agreement would update that accord. Read more about Mexico’s efforts to diversify its trade relationships in the face of NAFTA chaos HERE.
#7 – MORE NAFTA WITHDRAWAL ‘CONTINGENCY' TALK FROM USDA
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue made waves last month when he mentioned that USDA was working on contingency plans in the event of a NAFTA withdrawal. He later walked back those comments.
That didn't stop Ted McKinney, USDA's undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs from reigniting the contingency discussion last week with comments he gave to Agriculture.com
“The administration knows very well where farmers and the food and ag industries stand, but I would advise anybody to be prepared with contingencies, McKinney said. “Diversification might be an opportunity, and we should always be on the lookout for those. We should be thinking of that in the best of times.”
Seems like USDA still belives farmers should be prepping for a possible withdrawal.