Progress in Covid Aid/Stimulus Talks, But Big Hurdles Remain

Posted on 08/03/2020 6:11 AM

China's corn prices surge, as do imports | U.S. debt warning from Fitch | Rural hospitals

 


In Today’s Updates


 

Market Focus:
* U.S. debt warning from Fitch
* U.S. credit-card debt falls
* July jobs report will provide clues about the recovery's strength
* China's Caixin manufacturing PMI hits nine-plus year high
* What U.S. corn and soybean yields are in the market?
* 'Gold is in a secular bull market and still has a long way to run'
* A look at more real-time data
* Lumber futures have more than doubled since early April
* Dollar in July notched worst month in nearly a decade
* Covid-19 to stifle container port investment
* Weather forecasters have another excuse for being wrong: coronavirus
* Tropical storm Isaias headed for Carolinas; Florida avoids major damage

 

Policy Focus:
* Some progress in Covid aid talks, but big hurdles remain
* WaPo: White House considering unilateral moves amid stalemate with Congress
* China’s soaring corn prices prove fertile ground for speculators
* Trump to announce measures against 'broad array' of Chinese-owned software


U.S. food & beverage industry update:
* Smithfield Foods takes on 'false narrative' on its Covid-19 response*


Update on reopening America... and around the world:
* South Dakota bracing to host more than 250,000 bikers


Coronavirus update:
* Mexico overtakes Britain to record third-highest death toll from Covid-19
* Australian state of Victoria declares state of disaster
* Rural hospitals on brink of collapse
* Russia to roll out Covid-19 vaccine to general population starting in October

* FDA could authorize new blood plasma Covid-19 treatment
* Fauci: speed on Covid-19 vaccine will not compromise safety
* Thousands protest German measures to stem pandemic

 

Politics & Elections:
* Joe Biden will select VP nominee, but he may miss initial deadline
* Senate race in Kansas has some in GOP nervous
* Brazil envoy denies helping Trump re-election
* Documentary about legacy of George H.W. Bush


Other Items of Note:
* U.S./U.K. continues new trade agreement talks in Washington this week
* Supreme Court declines to halt Trump border wall
* Trump administration proposes endangered species rollback
* The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol
* EPA proposes registering weedkiller alternative to glyphosate
* A subscriber no one would want to lose

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: European stocks turned higher as positive factory data countered pessimism over a resurgence of Covid-19 cases. China’s major equity benchmark, the Shanghai Composite Index, rose 1.8% after a private gauge of manufacturing activity on the mainland rose in July to its highest level in more than nine years. Japan’s Nikkei 225 led Asian equities’ gains, climbing 2.2%. U.S. equity futures signal mixed to firmer openings.

 

     U.S. equities Friday: The Dow rose 114.67 points, 0.44%, at 26,428.32. The Nasdaq gained 157.46 points, 1.49%, at 10,745.27. The S&P 500 added 24.90 points, 0.77%, at 3,271.12.

 

     For the week: Dow -0.2%, S&P 500 +1.7%, Nasdaq +3.7%.

 

     For the month of July, the S&P rose 5.5%, the Nasdaq climbed 6.8% and the Dow added 2.3%.

 

   Equities four months

 

On tap today:

 

     • USDA Grain Inspections, at 10 a.m. ET
     • USDA Crop Progress, at 4 p.m. ET
     • IHS Markit's U.S. manufacturing index for July is out at 9:45 a.m. ET.
     • Institute for Supply Management's U.S. manufacturing index for July is expected to rise to 53.8 from 52.6 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • U.S. construction spending for June is expected to rise 1.2% from a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Federal Reserve: St. Louis’s James Bullard speaks at a virtual meeting on the economy and monetary policy at 12:30 p.m. ET, Richmond’s Thomas Barkin speaks to the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce at 1 p.m. ET, and Chicago's Charles Evans speaks at a virtual roundtable on the economy and monetary policy at 2 p.m. ET.
     • Japan's Tokyo consumer price index for July is out at 7:30 p.m. ET.

 

U.S. debt warning from Fitch. Fitch cut its outlook on U.S. debt on Friday (link), warning that the rise in federal spending to deal with the coronavirus pandemic had led to a deterioration in public finances. The rating agency lowered its outlook on the U.S. to “negative” from “stable,” but affirmed its triple A rating, its top grade. Fitch analysts said they believed there were growing risks the U.S. would be unable to curtail rising deficits as policymakers seek to jump-start economic growth. “High fiscal deficits and debt were already on a rising medium-term path even before the onset of the huge economic shock precipitated by the coronavirus,” said Charles Seville, an analyst with Fitch. “They have started to erode the traditional credit strengths of the U.S.” In a positive note, Fitch said the U.S. sovereign rating "is supported by structural strengths that include the size of the economy, high per capita income and a dynamic business environment.” The U.S. holds a triple A rating from Moody’s and a double-A plus rating from S&P Global.

Market impact: Treasuries surged when S&P reduced the U.S. debt rating in 2011. Like then, Fitch’s decision announced Friday afternoon in New York can help drive demand for bonds. The announcement had little impact on trading late on Friday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury remained near a historic low of 0.53 per cent, while the dollar clung on to gains against other currencies, including the euro.

 

U.S. credit-card debt falls; savings robust. Rather than rising as expected when unemployment soared amid lockdowns, credit-card debt in the U.S. and other advanced economies has dropped. Meanwhile, much of the recent government income support went into savings where the rate was 26%.

     Credit debt

     Past due

July jobs report will give an assessment of recovery's strength. Friday's report will show whether the economy is healing or retrenching as Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to rise. The information could influence policy makers’ next steps, businesses’ hiring strategies, consumers’ confidence and voters’ moods. Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect Friday’s report to show the labor market is still improving, though at a cooling pace. They project employers added 1.3 million jobs in July, leaving the economy with about 13 million fewer jobs than in February. They expect the report to show the unemployment rate fell to 10.6% in July from June’s 11.1% reading, which was down from a recent high of 14.7% in April.

     Jobless gauge

China's economy continues to improve. A private gauge of China’s manufacturing activity rose in July to its highest level in more than nine years, boosted by accelerated production and recovering demand. The Caixin China manufacturing purchasing managers index, weighted toward small private manufacturers, rose to 52.8 in July from 51.2 in June, Caixin Media Co. and research firm IHS Markit said today. July’s reading marked the third consecutive month that the Caixin PMI stood above the 50 level separating contraction from expansion. Total new orders, reflecting demand from home and abroad, also increased at the fastest rate since the start of 2011.

 

     China improves

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • With improving U.S. weather, what corn and soybean yields are possible? Today, the corn market has a yield idea of 179-181 in mind, says trader and analyst Richard Crow/Crow Trading Inc. With Aug. 12 the first USDA-survey production report, he says confirmation of a 180 yield “will keep corn prices under pressure through harvest. Corn spreads will stay wide if any corn is delivered on the Sept and Dec contract. Consumers will stay on a short coverage window. A wide carry will encourage producers to hedge grain forward.”
 
     What about U.S. soybean yields? Several analysts signal traders have been talking about a yield of around 51 bu. per acre, U.S. average.

 

     • “Gold is in a secular bull market and still has a long way to run,” Joe Foster, a manager of the Van Eck International Investors Gold fund (INIVX), told Barron's. “Sooner or later, gold will break above $2,000 an ounce and move to higher levels.” The metal gained 4% in the past week, to a record $1,971 an ounce — topping the 2011 peak of $1,900.


     • A look at more real-time data. The New York Fed’s Weekly Economic Index (WEI), a basket of 10 daily or weekly gauges — ranging from initial jobless claims and federal taxes withheld to fuel sales and railroad traffic — is scaled to align with real GDP growth. The latest reading of about negative 7% shows that the economy is springing up from April lows but still far from prepandemic levels (the WEI was at 2% in the beginning of February).

     WEI

     • Lumber futures have more than doubled since early April, when roughly 40% of North America’s sawing capacity was curtailed by mill owners. Futures for September delivery ended Friday at $585.80 per thousand board feet, up from $259.80 on April 1. Futures contracts for lumber that won’t be delivered until 2021 are trading above $500.

        Lumber surge

     • Dollar tumbles. The ICE Dollar Index, which measures the dollar against a basket of other major currencies, in July notched its worst month in nearly a decade and recently hit a two-year low.

 

        Dollar tumble

        Dollar others

     • Crude oil prices have remained lower after losses in Asian action that saw US crude trade under $40 per barrel, down more than 30 cents from Friday’s finish, and Bent trade around $43.25 per barrel, down more than 25 cents. Demand concerns are continuing to pressure futures, pushing US crude down nearly 0.9% around $39.90 per barrel while Brent is holding near $43.25 per barrel.

 

       Oil prices today


     • Covid-19 to stifle container port investment. The pace of container port capacity expansion is forecast to contract at least 40% over the next five years in the wake of the Covid-19 induced slowdown in port throughput, according to the latest Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast report published by global shipping consultancy Drewry (link). Global container terminal capacity is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 2.1% over the next five years, equating to an additional 25 million teu a year. This is well below the capacity growth seen over the past decade, when the average annual increase was more than 40 million teu a year.

 

Weather forecasters have another excuse for being wrong: coronavirus. A new report raises red flags that the recent falloff in commercial flights degrades meteorologists’ ability to forecast the weather accurately. The sudden drop in in-flight data could “handicap early warning of extreme weather and cause additional economic damage on the top of that from the pandemic,” the report warns. The paper, Covid-19 Pandemic Imperils Weather Forecast, was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It points out that data from commercial flights is a significant contributor to forecasting models that meteorologists use to predict the weather. The recent 50% to 75% drop-off in flights globally didn’t help.

 

Tropical storm Isaias headed for Carolinas; Florida avoids major damage. Tropical Storm Isaias is forecast to move north toward the Carolinas and potentially make landfall there night , the National Weather Service said. "Heavy rainfall totals are expected to cause potentially life-threatening flash flooding over the Carolinas and then the mid-Atlantic Monday and Tuesday as Isaias moves north," the weather service warned. Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida’s east coast Sunday, with the storm strengthening slightly and forecast to be near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the Carolinas. Officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus in Florida kept a close watch on the storm that was weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but still brought heavy rain and flooding to Florida’s Atlantic coast.

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

Update on next aid package:

  • Both Republicans and Democrats agreed progress was made Saturday during deliberations over a new stimulus deal to combat the impacts of coronavirus, and the two sides are set to continue talks today, but...

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: "We're not close yet."

    White House chief of staff Mark Meadows: "We're still a long ways apart. And I don't want to suggest that a deal is imminent, because it is not." The Washington Post today reported (link) that the White House is considering unilateral moves amid the stalemate with Congress. It said the administration is holding talks on what it can do to try to address some of the economic fallout from the pandemic if no relief deal is reached with Congress, citing two people aware of the deliberations.

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: "I guess we would also characterize the discussions as the most productive we've had to date," Mnuchin said. "We went through a long list of policy issues on our side and on their side, as we've suggested in the past, there's clearly a subset of issues where we both agree on very much."

    Mnuchin said there was an overlap in issues both parties agree to that should be prioritized in the next package. "The four of us agree that education is timely," Mnuchin said. "There are schools that want to open that will need money for social distancing and PPE (personal protective equipment)." He also said that there was "bipartisan support" for small business loans.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remained steadfast in her desire to pass a larger bill and not take a piecemeal approach suggested by Republicans and the White House, such as a short-term extension of the unemployment benefit, saying Saturday, "We’re not doing short-term.” Pelosi argued that a short-term deal to extend the unemployment benefit by one week would only be worthwhile if lawmakers had nearly completed a larger bill, noting the amount of time it would take for the measure to pass.

    Biggest issue: House Democrats want any economic-relief package to include a long-term extension of the enhanced unemployment benefit, arguing the extra funds have been a critical support to those who lost their jobs amid the pandemic. The White House and Senate Republicans want to trim that additional payment, saying in some cases people are being paid more to stay at home than if they returned to work. “The $600 is essential,” Pelosi said on ABC News’s This Week. “It’s essential for America’s working families.”

    Mnuchin said, also on ABC, “We absolutely agree on enhanced unemployment. We want to fix the issue where in some cases people are overpaid, and we want to make sure there’s the right incentives.”

    Pelosi said that in the long run, the “enhancement for unemployment insurance should relate to the rate of unemployment,” suggesting that the $600 benefit could be wound down but only once the economy was on firmer footing. Under such a proposal, benefits would decline once the unemployment rate had improved, an idea known as an “automatic stabilizer.”

    Other issues: Pelosi said one priority is funds for state and local governments, to help with their coronavirus response and prevent a revenue shortfall from leading to widespread layoffs of government workers, further swelling unemployment rolls. Mnuchin said this proposal would “bail out those states that have financial issues” and would cost more than $1 trillion.

    A big intra-GOP issue: The Washington Post reported (link) that the White House is willing to cut a stimulus deal without a ‘liability shield,’ breaking with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The WaPo cited two people with knowledge of internal White House planning. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Friday that the liability shield was McConnell’s priority but that Trump wanted unemployment insurance extended. “That’s a question for Mitch McConnell … that’s his priority,” McEnany said, when asked if the administration would insist on a liability shield. “This president is very keenly focused on unemployment insurance.” McConnell has said he will not bring up legislation for a vote in the Senate if it does not include the liability measure. The liability shield, co-written by McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), would only allow workers and consumers to sue employers for damages if they can prove a business was “grossly negligent” in actions that led to them contracting the virus. McConnell has stressed that the shield would apply not just to private businesses, but also to schools, universities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations and similar establishments.

    Link to Farm Bureau information on the GOP package’s agricultural provisions and a comparison of the House and Senate bills.

Update on China:

  • China’s soaring corn prices prove fertile ground for speculators, says a Financial Times article (link/paywall). “Corn futures traded in Dalian have risen about 20% since Covid-19 began spreading in China in February. Over the same period, prices for U.S. corn futures have fallen 12%. The jump has pushed food inflation in China into double-digits, an uncomfortably high level for Beijing, in recent months.” Result: Buying more crops abroad, including recent hefty corn buys from the United States. Domestic corn prices have surged in part due to a 90% plunge in government stockpiles in recent years as Beijing has tried to reduce the role of the state in the buying and selling of the crop. Some analysts believe that at the current rate government reserves may run out as soon as the end of August. This has led to rampant speculation by traders who are hoarding the crop, leading the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs to warn it was “not appropriate” for traders to hoard the commodity. State media has also urged authorities to crack down “severely” on speculation.
     
  • Trump administration will announce measures shortly against “a broad array” of Chinese-owned software deemed to pose national-security risks, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said. The comments signal a possible widening of U.S. measures beyond TikTok, the popular music-video app owned by ByteDance, one of China’s biggest tech companies. ByteDance would rather spin off the video-sharing app than sell it to Microsoft, the South China Morning Post reported on Sunday. Microsoft has said it will press ahead with talks to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations despite the reservations of PresidentTrump, following a conversation between chief executive Satya Nadella and the president.
     
  • U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.

Food and beverage industry update:

  • Smithfield Foods took out full-page ads in several major newspapers (link) accusing critics and the media of fueling a “false narrative” about the company’s response to Covid-19.

Update on reopening America... and around the world:

  • South Dakota is bracing to host more than 250,000 bikers when the 80th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally opens Friday. The 10-day event, which could be the biggest gathering anywhere in the U.S. since the pandemic began, will offer local businesses a chance to make up for losses caused by the coronavirus. In a survey of 7,000 Sturgis residents, more than 60% said the rally should be postponed.

Coronavirus update:

  • Summary: Global Covid-19 cases are at 18,093,891 with deaths of 689,625, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). The U.S. case count is at 4,667,957 with 154,860 deaths.

    Link to Covid Case Tracker

    Link to Our World in Data

    Daily cases
  • Mexico overtakes Britain to record the third-highest death toll from Covid-19, behind only neighboring America and Brazil. Mexico has recorded over 46,000 deaths. The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been criticized for not imposing a lockdown earlier, and for relaxing it too soon.
     
  • The government in the Australian state of Victoria on Sunday declared a state of disaster after the coronavirus outbreak showed no signs of abating three weeks after Melbourne’s 5 million residents were ordered to stay home except for work, medical care, provisions or exercise. The lockdown will now cover all of Australia’s second-most populous state, and residents of the city will be under curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. The new restrictions will be in force for six weeks, and Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the nation's economy faces another significant hit.
     
  • Rural hospitals are on the brink of collapse. While many hospitals have struggled financially during the pandemic, few have struggled more than hospitals in rural areas. Yet if many rural hospitals close this year, Covid-19 will be only one straw that broke the camel’s back. “For the last 20 years, rural hospitals have been struggling. That’s kind of who they are,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “But Covid really knocked them off.” There are 1,821 rural hospitals in the United States. Since 2005, 171 have closed. Twelve have closed thus far in 2020. The closure of rural hospitals makes it more difficult for the roughly 46 million people living in rural America to access healthcare. Additionally, such hospitals provide rural areas with a significant number of jobs. Local economies suffer when a rural hospital shuts its doors. Link to Washington Examiner article for more.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, issued a warning to rural America, saying that it should not feel immune to the virus, which has thus far been more damaging in urban areas. She said the national death toll depends on how well southern and western states promote mitigation. "It is extraordinarily widespread," Birx said. "This epidemic right now is different and it's more widespread and it's both rural and urban."

     
  • Russia plans to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine to the general population starting in October, hoping to be the first country to start mass vaccinations against the virus.
     
  • FDA could authorize new blood plasma Covid-19 treatment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering clearing blood plasma from recovered patients for emergency use. A decision could come as soon as this week, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter.
     
  • Fauci: speed on Covid-19 vaccine will not compromise safety. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, told a House panel Friday that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by the end of this year and said health agencies are not compromising safety standards. “I know to some people this seems like it is so fast that there might be compromising of safety and scientific integrity,” Fauci said at a hearing by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “I can tell you that is absolutely not the case.” Fauci said a vaccine may not immediately be available to everyone once it’s available, but that “over a period of time in 2021” the public would be able to access a vaccine, assuming one is authorized.
     
  • 17,000 people marched in Berlin Saturday to protest German measures to stem the pandemic, saying they violated people’s rights and freedoms.

    German protests
    Protest near the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/AP

POLITICS & ELECTIONS


  • Links
    2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map
    The Green Papers

     
  • Joe Biden will select his vice presidential nominee, but he may miss his initial announcement date. He had said it would happen in the first week of August, but the Washington Post and New York Times report it will slip to the second week — aides say the announcement will come the week before the Democratic convention Aug. 17-20. Link to how the NYT sums up the potential candidates. Two candidates are now among the leading contenders: Rep. Karen Bass of California and Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, the NYT reports, citing Democratic officials briefed on the selection process. “Bass in particular has moved rapidly toward the top of Mr. Biden’s list amid an intensive lobbying drive by her fellow House Democrats and has impressed the former vice-president’s search committee.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is close with Bass, “whom she named to oversee the recent policing reform bill, and has made her admiration clear in private conversations, including with former President Barack Obama,” the NYT noted.
     
  • Senate race in Kansas has some in GOP nervous. Hardline conservative Kris Kobach is among a crowded field in Tuesday's Republican primary. Critics within the party note his failed bid for governor and fear a Kobach candidacy could jeopardize the historically safe seat come November to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who favors Rep. Roger Marshall. If so, it could cost the GOP a Senate seat in Kansas for the first time since 1932. Any endorsement from President Trump could be decisive. National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Kevin McLaughlin warned that if Kobach wins Kansas Senate primary, it could doom the GOP Senate majority — and perhaps even hurt President Donald Trump in a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964. ‘The Senate majority runs through Kansas,’ McLaughlin warned, according to reports. Other GOP candidates include plumbing executive Bob Hamilton and former Kansas City Chiefs football player Dave Lindstrom. The Democratic candidates are Barbara Bollier, physician and state senator and Robert Tillman, Kansas National Guard veteran and perennial candidate.
     
  • Brazil envoy denies helping Trump re-election. Reports in Brazilian media outlets (link) claim U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman asked members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to lower ethanol tariffs to help with President Trump’s re-election. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has sent a letter to Chapman demanding an explanation of his behavior, saying it could be in violation of the Hatch Act — a law which prohibits federal employees from conducting political activities while in office. “Allegations suggesting that Ambassador Chapman has asked Brazilians to support a specific U.S. candidate are false,” a State Department statement said. “The United States has long been focused on reducing tariff barriers and will continue to do so.” Link to New York Times article.
     
  • A documentary about the legacy of George H.W. Bush, co-produced by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs and VPM public TV, will debut nationally this week. Titled Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team, the film offers a unique look at the foreign policy legacy of Bush via his Presidential Oral History, the historical record and accounts from advisers, according to a news release. The documentary reflects on the state of American diplomacy at the end of the Cold War when Bush became president in 1989. According to the release, much of the world was in turmoil when Bush took office and it was clear that American diplomacy was entering a new era. The documentary features archival footage and interviews with members of Bush’s foreign policy team, including James Baker, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Brent Scowcroft. The documentary airs at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on PBS stations.

 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE


 

  • U.S./U.K. officials continue new trade agreement talks in Washington this week. U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer will meet this week with Liz Truss, the U.K.’s international trade secretary, who the Financial Times reports will express frustration at American officials over “punitive” tariffs levied on British goods. Truss’ visit to Washington underlines the U.K.’s desire to strike a trade deal with America quickly, despite U.S. officials, including Lighthizer and Vice President Mike Pence saying final talks on a new trade accord would not likely be completed by the end of the year. Truss told the Financial Times that, while U.S. officials “talk a good game on free trade and low tariffs, the reality is that many of our great British products are being kept unfairly out of their market.” She is expected to raise the retaliatory tariffs as part of the Airbus and Boeing dispute in the aviation sector, as well as the prospect of further tariffs being levied on British goods.
     
  • Supreme Court declines to halt Trump border wall. The Supreme Court declined, 5-4, Friday to halt work on the border wall the Trump administration has been building without authorization from Congress, likely ensuring that more than 200 miles of the president’s signature project will be completed before litigation over its legality is resolved. Lower courts had found that President Trump exceeded his powers by declaring a national emergency and reallocating to the border-wall project $2.5 billion lawmakers had budgeted for other purposes. At the administration’s request, the Supreme Court in July 2019, by the same 5-4 vote along conservative-liberal lines, allowed construction to continue while the government appealed.
     
  • Trump administration proposes endangered species rollback. In their proposal, the Interior and Commerce departments argue that the definition of "habitat" under the Endangered Species Act, which President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1973, should be changed to exclude certain areas needed for the recovery of a threatened species in the future. Such areas have long been interpreted by federal agencies as covered under the law, and they are likely to be critical to aid species in their recovery as the climate warms. “We are proposing these changes on behalf of improved conservation and transparency in our processes for designating critical habitat,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith said.
     
  • USDA officials identify some seeds mysteriously mailed from China. USDA officials identified several of the seeds that were mailed to citizens in several U.S. states from China. An analysis of the seeds revealed that some Amazon shoppers were sent a “mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed species" in packages they did not purchase. Officials maintained that people should not plant any mysterious seeds they are sent and should continue reporting them to law enforcement. “This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the department's Plants Protection and Quarantine division, said. Officials believe it may be part of an Amazon "brushing" scam whereby sellers obtain the addresses of customers and send them an unrequested product in the hopes that the customer will use the product and leave a positive review. The Chinese government denied responsibility for the seed shipments after U.S. officials questioned whether the shipments could be considered "agricultural bioterrorism."
     
  • Private-equity firms discuss bid for Kansas City Southern: WSJ. A group of big buyout investors is considering a takeover bid for railroad operator Kansas City Southern that could be worth more than $21 billion and mark a big bet on U.S./Mexico trade, reports the Wall Street Journal (link).
     
  • The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, launched by industry groups, aims to put cotton back on the map as an eco-friendly fiber — and to set American cotton farmers apart from the rest of the sector. The $7 billion U.S. cotton industry is the world’s third largest and, according to the Trust Protocol, already on the cutting-edge of sustainability. Link to Forbes article for details.

    Cotton eco

     
  • EPA proposes registering weedkiller alternative to glyphosate. EPA has proposed registering tiafenacil as an alternative to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer Ag’s Roundup, as some weeds have become increasingly resistant to the widely used herbicide. The need for additional herbicides such as tiafenacil on glyphosate-resistant weeds is growing, the EPA said in an announcement Friday, adding that “herbicide resistance presents a significant financial, production and pest management issue for growers throughout the nation.” Meanwhile, Roundup has been the subject of more than 125,000 lawsuits brought by users who claim the weedkiller caused their cancers.
     
  • U.S. dairy groups want sector to be 'core' trade policy objective. A bipartisan group of 61 senators want U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to make it a “core” trade policy objective to strike trade deals that allow U.S. dairy producers to sell their products using common names that originated in Europe. “Our competitors continue to employ trade negotiations around the world to prohibit American-made products from using common food [and drink] names … such as bologna, parmesan, chateau and feta, which have been in use for decades,” the senators said in a letter (link). Dairy groups, including the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council, want future trade deals to include stronger terms than were included in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, (USMCA)which went into force on July 1. They have scheduled a virtual news conference today on the topic.
     
  • A subscriber no one would want to lose: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is immediately canceling its paid subscription to one of the largest environmental trade publications, E&E News. The move took effect Aug. 1 and will end EPA employees’ free access to the Washington-based publication, which provides in-depth coverage of the agency and related government agencies alongside a wide variety of environmental issues. “EPA has decided to cancel its desktop subscription to E&E News,” Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento wrote in an email to employees last Thursday. “Over the next two years, EPA would have spent $382,425 to receive" various E&E newsletters, Benevento said, noting that the money will instead be used to purchase subscriptions and access to other publications. He did not name the other publications. “I’m sad EPA isn’t renewing. Their staffers are heavy readers of our publications, generating hundreds of thousands of page views a year,” E&E executive editor Cy Zaneski told The Hill in an email. “We will miss their readership, but we’ll continue to cover EPA with gusto.”

 

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