Senate GOP Releases Covid-19 Aid Package; Dems Say Not Nearly Enough

Posted on 07/28/2020 7:31 AM

CFAP payments of $6.55 billion; specialty crop payouts well below expectations

 


In Today’s Updates


 

Top Topics:
* Senate GOP releases HEALS Act re: latest Covid-19 aid package
* Reaction to Senate GOP aid plan by Democrats: Not nearly enough funding
* Ag portion of HEALS Act contains no major surprises
* CFAP payments reach $6.55 billion as of July 27
* ECB extends dividend ban, capital relief for banks
* South Africa secures IMF loan
* Spot gold fell more than 1% overnight to $1,920/oz
* Silver tumbled 4.5% to $23.62/oz
* Brazilian producers to aggressively expand soybean acres
* Tools to help farmers hire immigrant laborers that come into the U.S. via H-2A visas

* Strong demand for cotton at Chinese reserve auctions continues


U.S. food & beverage industry update:
* More info sought on Covid-19 cases at a Tyson pork processing plant
* Trump administration sued over removal of GMO labels
* General Mills Inc. reaching deeper into the food manufacturing business
* Walmart, Kroger bottle their own milk and shake up American dairy industry


Update on reopening America... and around the world:
* MLB's season thrown into turmoil with Miami Marlins’ virus outbreak
* Durbin concerned on EPA re-openings


Coronavirus update:
* Signs pandemic reaching a plateau in hardest-hit states
* Beijing reports first new case of coronavirus in three weeks
* National security adviser Robert O’Brien tests positive for Covid-19

* Court showdown in Georgia over mask mandates
* Experimental vaccines entered their pivotal Phase 3 trials Monday

 

Politics & Elections:
* Indiana out, Cleveland, Ohio in for one of the presidential debates
* Trump’s disapproval rating reaches highest level since early 2019: 55.8%


Other Items of Note:
* Unsolicited seeds arriving in several states
* Florida citrus producers plan to ask USTR for action against Mexican competitors
* Mexico unexpectedly posted its biggest-ever trade surplus in June
* Trump announces two nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
* Open Barr: Attorney General Barr to appear before a House committee today

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Futures tied to the S&P 500 wavered between gains and losses. European stocks climbed on the back of strong earnings reports. The Stoxx Europe 600 edged up 0.3%. Most major stock markets in Asia closed higher. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.7%, and South Korea’s Kospi climbed 1.8%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.3%.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 114.88 points, 0.43%, at 26,584.77. The Nasdaq gained 173.09 points, 1.67%, at 10,536.27. The S&P 500 was up 23.78 points, 0.74%, at 3,239.41.

 

On tap today:

 

     • The Federal Open Market Committee holds its policy meeting today, with an announcement due on Wednesday.
     • The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index for May is expected to rise 4.4% from a year earlier. (9 a.m. ET)
     • Conference Board's consumer confidence index for July is expected to fall to 94.3 from 98.1 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Richmond Fed's manufacturing survey for July is expected to rise to 3 from 0 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)

 

ECB extends dividend ban, capital relief for banks. The European Central Bank (ECB) has extended its recommendation that Eurozone banks not pay dividends until the end of the year and will allow banks to breach their liquidity buffers until the end of 2021 and their total capital requirements for another year. The ban on dividends and share buybacks was originally to be in place through October, but now will be in place until Jan. 1. The ECB said banks should “exercise extreme moderation” when it comes to bonuses. The ECB will review the decisions in the fourth quarter. The Bank of England also announced it would determine whether to extend its suspension on dividends and share buybacks by banks beyond the end of this year.

 

South Africa secures IMF loan. South African received a $4.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the largest emergency financing by the IMF for a country dealing with Covid-19. The IMF loan was approved to address “the challenging health situation and severe economic impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IMF said. South Africa has typically been reluctant to approach the IMF for financial help, but Finance Minister Tito Mboweni helped sway the country to tap the IMF based on a view that the loan terms would not affect South African sovereignty, according to the Financial Times. The IMF has approved more than $14 billion in loans linked to the pandemic for African countries.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • The dollar weakened to a two-year low on Monday as sharp increases in U.S. coronavirus cases and flare-ups around the world weighed on investor confidence. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the greenback against a basket of other currencies, fell Monday to its lowest level since June 2018, according to FactSet. Investors have sold the dollar and bought currencies of countries with lower Covid-19 infection levels in recent weeks. That has erased 3.8% of the currency’s value in July, putting it on track for its worst one-month performance in over nine years.

 

        Dollar slide


     • Gold prices briefly hit an intraday record of $1,974.70 a troy ounce, before paring gains to trade down 0.7% to $1,918. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs says gold will surge another 20% and hit $2,300 in the next year, driven by rock-bottom interest rates. The bank previously projected that the safe-haven metal would touch $2,000 an ounce in the next 12 months.

 

        Gold breaker

 

     • Crude oil futures are mixed in trading ahead of the U.S. market open. U.S. crude is down around 0.25% to trade near $41.50 per barrel while Brent crude is up 0.2% to trade around $44 per barrel.

 

     • Brazilian producers to aggressively expand soybean acres. Brazil will likely boost soybean production 3.4% to a record-high 129.15 MMT in 2020-21, projects the ag consultancy Arc Mercosul. It expects farmers to expand planted acreage at the fastest clip since the 2014-15 season given their strong financial standing and robust Chinese demand for the oilseed. The consultancy expects producers to seed 38.43 million hectares (94.9 million acres) to the crop, which would be a 3.8% jump from last year.

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci can add another accomplishment to his résumé: best-selling Topps baseball card. Link for details.

 

     Fauci card

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

Ag portion of new proposed GOP Senate aid bill contains items as previously reported in Policy Updates.

     Highlights:

     • Name of bill: HEALS Act — Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act.
     • New direct funding: $20.457 billion to the Office of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that can be used for several purposes, including aiding livestock producers who had to dispose of their animals. Text of the bill says the $20 billion “to remain available until expended, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by coronavirus, including producers, growers, and processors of specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock and poultry, including livestock and poultry depopulated due to insufficient processing access and growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity.”
     • Contract growers should also be eligible for relief.

     • Processors would cover ethanol producers.
     • USDA already has $14 billion in the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) that can be spent on Covid-19 relief, for a combined total of $34 billion.
     • Bill does not restrict CCC action, nor does it increase the CCC borrowing cap. The Senate is working through the Ag Appropriations Committee to ensure additional CCC authority for the regular Farm Bill programs.
     • $500 million for the Commerce Department to assist fishers and fishing communities affected by the coronavirus.
     • $76.4 million for additional salaries and expenses at the Farm Service Agency “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including necessary expenses to hire temporary staff and overtime expenses.”
     • $20 million for rural development program salaries and expenses ”to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including administrative expenses.”
     • $113.4 million for USDA's rental assistance program for temporary adjustment of wage income losses for residents of housing financed or assisted under the Housing Act of 1949.
     • $250,000 for nutrition programs administration overtime expenses.
     • $2 million for the Foreign Agricultural Service for additional salaries and expenses including relocation of employees and their dependents from overseas posts.

     • $245 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make up for the loss of quarantine and inspection fees resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

 

     The Senate measure does not increase SNAP/food stamp benefit levels.

 

     Link to text.

 

     Link to summary.

 

General provisions of Senate GOP's aid package. “The pandemic is not finished. The economic pain is not finished. So Congress cannot be finished either.,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “We have one foot in the pandemic, and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive, and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads. That is what this Senate majority has assembled,” McConnell added.

 

     Senate Republicans released details of their plan for a just over $1 trillion coronavirus aid package that would provide a less generous extension of unemployment benefits than current law but offers another round of tax rebate checks and expanded employment tax credits. Leaders are hoping to get a final deal passed by the end of next week, before the scheduled August recess.

 

     Major items in the package:

 

     • Unemployment benefits. The current $600 weekly federal benefit effectively ended this weekend for millions but is scheduled to officially expire at the end of this week. Republicans would extend benefits of $200 a week through September. Beginning in October, benefits would be calculated for each jobless worker so that his or her combined state and federal benefits would amount to 70% of lost wages. The federal benefit would be capped at $500 a week. Democrats have proposed continuing through January the current $600-a-week supplement, which costs about $15 billion a week.

 

     • Tax rebates. Most Americans would get a second direct cash payment of up to $1,200 per adult, with the amount beginning to phase out when annual incomes exceed about $75,000 for single filers and $150,000 for married couples. It would also provide $500 per dependent of any age — the GOP plan would expand the definition of dependents eligible for aid to include adult dependents, those over 16. That means more money for parents of college students and people who take care of their elderly parents; they didn’t qualify for the first round of payments.

 

     • Enhanced hiring and retention payroll tax credits. A refundable tax credit to encourage employers to hire and retain workers during the pandemic would be increased from 50% of eligible wages to 65%. The plan would allow larger credits per worker and let up to $30,000 of wages and benefits qualify instead of just $10,000. It also would make more employers eligible by requiring them to show less of a revenue decline to qualify. House Democrats passed an even more expansive worker-retention tax credit, which offers a larger credit that covers more wages.

 

     • Workplace tax credit. Employers would get a payroll tax credit to cover 50% of the cost of a worker’s virus protection expenses, such as testing, personal protective equipment and workplace remodeling.

 

     • Restaurant deduction. The measure would remove the existing 50% limit on tax write-offs for business meals through Dec. 31, something supporters say will help save restaurant industry jobs. But Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) did not include it with the main tax title of the package and has said he opposes an expanded meals break.

 

     • Appropriations. Federal agencies would get $306 billion in emergency funding, with the biggest single bulk of money — $118.4 billion — going to the Department of Health and Human Services for vaccine research, testing and other medical needs — about $16 billion in new funding for testing was included in the Republican bill, besides $9 billion in previously approved funds that will be used for testing. (In their bill, Democrats included $75 billion for testing.) Schools under the GOP plan would get $105 billion to help them safely reopen, with some of the aid only available to schools that plan to physically reopen. (Senate Democrats have proposed allocating $430 billion for schools — including $50 billion for child-care facilities — to acquire personal protective equipment, implement other health measures and bolster education, whether in-person or online.) The military under the GOP plan would get $29.4 billion to meet the pandemic needs of troops — including nearly $8.1 billion to support the "defense industrial base." Farmers, ranchers and processors as previously noted would get $20 billion in direct payments, and low-income families and housing agencies would get $3.2 billion in rental assistance.

 

     • Paycheck Protection Program. Small businesses could apply for a second round of forgivable loans aimed at keeping their workers on the job during the pandemic. About $190 billion would be available for loans, including previously appropriated funds that have yet to be spent. Companies seeking a second loan would be required to have fewer than 300 workers and show a drop in revenue of at least 50 percent.

 

     • Liability protection. Employers who open their businesses during the pandemic would be shielded from coronavirus-related medical claims through Oct. 1, 2024, if they make “reasonable efforts” to comply with public health guidelines and don’t engage in “willful misconduct or grossly negligent behavior.” McConnell has called expanding liability protections a central part of the GOP bill, while Democrats have pushed to bolster safety standards for workers.

 

     • Trust fund "rescues." Congressional “rescue committees” would be appointed to recommend bipartisan plans for shoring up Social Security, Medicare and highway trust funds. Recommendations from the committees would get expedited consideration in the House and Senate.

 

     • GOP proposal also includes $1.75 billion to construct a new Federal Bureau of Investigation building in Washington. Democrats noted President Trump's flagship hotel in the U.S. capital is nearby.

     • $10 billion for the nation’s airports as the pandemic continues to strain the aviation industry. The figure falls shy of the $13 billion request from airport organizations. Facilities that receive aid would have to keep at least 90% of their workers employed through March 2021. More than 3,000 U.S. airports already received a combined $10 billion under the March coronavirus relief package.

 

     • A provision would create a domestic purchasing requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE) to fill the domestic stockpile and a $7.5 billion tax credit for companies that produce medical supplies such as gowns and masks was pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

 

     State and local governments would get no additional aid under the Republican plan, though it would grant them more flexibility in using existing federal assistance. Democrats have allotted nearly $1 trillion to state and local governments to fill budget gaps opened by loss of revenue and growing expenses because of the recession.

 

Reaction to Senate GOP aid plan by Democrats: Not nearly enough funding. House Democrats in May passed an aid package totaling $3.4 trillion, more than tripling the size of the GOP’s plan. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dubbed the Democratic plan Monday a “multi-trillion-dollar Socialist manifesto.”

 

     House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the Senate package a “pathetic” approach and said it wasn’t adequate to the country’s needs. "Having said that, we are going to see if we can find some common ground," she added. "But we are not there yet." She called for Republican leaders and White House officials to meet with Democrats in her office “within a half hour” of the plan’s release to begin working on a bipartisan deal. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for nearly two hours Monday evening, and Meadows said they would meet again today.

 

     With so many complex issues to work out, White House officials have floated the idea of passing the GOP package in piecemeal fashion instead of in one giant bill. Pelosi dismissed that idea, but some White House officials continued to press it.

 

New tools have been launched by USDA to help farmers as they seek to hire immigrant laborers that come into the U.S. via H-2A visas.

 

     New features on the website include:

 

     • A real-time dashboard that enables farmers to track the status of their eligible employer application and visa applications for temporary nonimmigrant workers;

     • Streamlining the login information so if a farmer has an existing login.gov account they can save multiple applications tracking numbers for quick look-up at any time;
     • Enables easy access to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG);

     • Allows farmers to track time-sensitive actions taken in the course of Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s (OFLC) adjudication of temporary labor certification applications; and
     • Allowing for farmers to access all application forms on-line.

 

     Background. The H-2A temporary agricultural program helps employers who anticipate a lack of available domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the US, according to USDA, “to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work including, but not limited to, planting, cultivating, or harvesting labor.” USDA defines seasonal work as when farmers need more help than usual because the work is tied to a certain time of year by an event or pattern, like a short annual growing cycle. Temporary work is that which lasts no longer than 1 year. Temporary or seasonal agricultural work can happen on farms, plantations, ranches, nurseries, ranges, greenhouses, orchards, or other similar locations, USDA noted.

 

     Link to the updated tools.

 

Update on China:

  • Strong demand for cotton at Chinese reserve auctions continues. China sold all of the 8,516 MT of cotton from its state reserves that it put up for auction this week for an average price of 11,612 yuan ($1,658) per metric ton. In recent years, China has pared its bulging reserves of the fiber via such auctions. Demand for cotton at this year’s auctions has been strong, with the average price up 1.9% from prices at the start of the month.
     
  • U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.

Update on implementation of CARES 1, including CFAP:

  • CFAP payments reach $6.55 billion. USDA has now paid out $6.55 billion under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) with 473,124 applications approved as of July 27.

    USDA has paid out $3.31 billion for livestock, $1.73 billion for non-specialty crops, $1.29 billion for dairy and $227.5 million for specialty crops.

    Payouts by commodities are led by $2.87 billion for cattle, $1.29 billion for milk, $1.18 billion for corn, $416.1 million for hogs, $330.8 million for soybeans and $164.6 million for upland cotton.

    USDA initially projected that the initial round of payments to producers (80% of estimated gross payments) would be $3.01 billion for non-specialty crops, $2.30 billion for special crops, $2.78 billion for dairy, $4.35 billion for cattle, $2.14 billion for hogs and pigs and $80 million for other sectors for a total of $15.38 billion.

    The top six states receiving the aid are Iowa ($678.8 million), Nebraska ($484.2 million), Minnesota ($420.4 million), Wisconsin ($384.2 million), Texas ($355.6 million) and California ($345.4 million).

    Perspective: The payments to special crop producers are only 10% of what the cost-benefit analysis projected. Some news outlets are wondering why the direct payments corn and soybeans are lower than what was initially expected. Policy Updates several weeks ago suggested more than a few farmers had sold their corn and/or soybeans before Jan. 15 and were thus ineligible for the CFAP direct payments.

    CFAP FB 1

    CFAP 2


    CFAP 3

    CFAP 4

    CFAP 5

    CFAP 6

Food and beverage industry update:

  • Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) has sent a letter to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds seeking answers after an Associated Press report revealed discrepancies in the number of reported Covid-19 cases at a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction.
     
  • Trump administration sued over removal of GMO labels. The Trump Administration was sued over its plan to ban the term “GMO” from food labels and to force consumers to scan QR codes with their phones if they want to find out whether an item contains genetically modified ingredients. New rules from USDA delete the terms GMO, short for genetically modified organism, and GE, which means genetically engineered, from food packaging starting this year, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the public-interest group Center for Food Safety and other advocacy groups. In their place, the rules allow the term “bioengineered,” the center said. That will make it harder for consumers to find out what’s in their food, the group said. The new rules allow food producers to move disclosures — which appear on many foods today because state laws require them — from the food packaging and onto QR barcodes that must be scanned by cellphone or other digital device to be read, the center said. “This form of disclosure would discriminate against major portions of the population — the poor, elderly, rural, and minorities — with lower percentages of smartphone ownership,” the group said. The case is Natural Grocers v. Perdue, 20-cv-5151, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
     
  • General Mills Inc. is reaching deeper into the food manufacturing business to help match its supply chain to heightened demand. With its own factories already operating at capacity, the company is turning to more third-party manufacturers, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), a sign of the continuing struggle by packaged-food companies to keep grocery shelves stocked as consumers load up during the coronavirus pandemic. General Mills will boost the number of suppliers by as much as 20% on top of the 200 it had before the pandemic, and expects these third parties to supply products until at least next summer. The outsourcing will be costly but the company says it’s needed for an expected “longer period of sustained higher demand.” The WSJ item says the move “also complicates General Mills’ supply chain, requiring transport connections for delivery of ingredients, as well as vetting of new suppliers and assessments of their capacity and limitations.”
     
  • Walmart, Kroger bottle their own milk and shake up American dairy industry. Moves by big grocers into the milk bottling business are threatening some of the biggest operators in the $40 billion U.S. milk industry, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), as Americans’ thirst for cheap milk triggers big changes in business from farms to grocery shelves. And, farmers are part of the collateral damage. Both Dean Foods Co., which until last year was the largest U.S. milk processor by sales, and rival Borden Dairy Co. were sold this year after filing for bankruptcy in November and January. And some 3,300 dairy-cow herds disappeared in 2019, following low milk prices, troubled exports and processing-plant closures across the country. “Supermarket chains know that shoppers who come for a jug of milk will buy other items, however, changing cost calculations and leading several chains, to cut out the middlemen with their own milk-bottling plants,” the item notes.

    Milk decline
    Milk Industry


    Milk shelf share

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

  • MLB's season thrown into turmoil with Miami Marlins’ virus outbreak. Tests showed that a dozen or more players and staff members from the team have contracted Covid-19, prompting MLB to postpone two games previously scheduled for Monday. At least 14 members of the Marlins tested positive for the virus. The Marlins had played five games last week, in Atlanta and Philadelphia, before learning on Sunday that four players had tested positive.

    In South Korea, by contrast, the season continues unabated — and fans were allowed to attend games for the first time this season.

     
  • Durbin concerned on EPA re-openings. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter (link) to EPA chief Andrew Wheeler yesterday, asking him to provide information about the agency’s plan to reopen its offices. The Senate Minority Whip also urged Wheeler to “consider the consequences associated with reopening the offices, including the use of public transit for employees, as well as the ability to effectively social distance and implement extensive cleaning protocols in EPA offices.” The EPA has been moving swiftly toward reopening, drawing sharp critiques from its unions and employees, although no staffers are yet required to return to the office.

Coronavirus update:

  • Summary: Source: Johns Hopkins University as of 6:30 a.m. ET.

    — 16,495,309: Confirmed cases world-wide, and 584,556 deaths
    — 56,336: New U.S. cases recorded yesterday
    — 4,294,770: Total confirmed cases in the U.S.
    — 1,076: Deaths in the U.S. recorded yesterday
    — 148,056: Total U.S. deaths
    — 52,252,334: Tests conducted in the U.S.

    There are signs the pandemic is reaching a plateau in the hardest-hit states as public health measures start to pay off.

    Daily cases

    Link to Covid Case Tracker

    Link to Our World in Data

     
  • Beijing reported its first new case of coronavirus in three weeks while the government in Hong Kong is considering postponing upcoming legislative elections. Hong Kong reported 145 cases yesterday, its highest one-day count yet and the sixth straight day of more than 100 new cases.

    The number of new daily cases has risen more than 20% in both Europe and Canada over the past week. It’s up about 40% in Australia and Japan. Chart source: New York Times

    World cases

     
  • President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has tested positive for the coronavirus, making him the most senior federal official known to have contracted it.
     
  • Court showdown in Georgia over mask mandates. A Georgia judge hears arguments today in a case brought by Governor Brian Kemp to stop the city of Atlanta from enforcing a mask mandate that is punishable by a fine or up to six months in jail.
     
  • Experimental vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer entered their pivotal Phase 3 trials Monday, as U.S. coronavirus cases rose by 55,000 and other countries also recorded increasing infections. Researchers plan to enroll 30,000 people in each of the two trials, which will determine whether the vaccines protect against symptomatic Covid-19 and should be cleared for widespread use.
     

POLITICS & ELECTIONS


  • Links

    2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map
    The Green Papers

     
  • Indiana out, Cleveland, Ohio in for one of the presidential debates. The first presidential debate has been moved to Cleveland amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announced. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Monday that Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic will co-host the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. The debate will be held on the Health Education Campus, a joint project between Case Western and the Cleveland Clinic. The University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind., announced that it was pulling out from its hosting responsibilities amid the pandemic.

    The second debate, which is scheduled for Oct. 15, will now be held in Miami, after the University of Michigan dropped out last month.

    The third debate is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tenn.

     
  • President Trump’s disapproval rating in the FiveThirtyEight polling average has reached its highest level since early 2019: 55.8%. Link for details.

 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE


 

  • Unsolicited seeds arriving in several states, reportedly from China. Agriculture commissioners in Florida, Texas and other states joined other farm officials sounding the alarm about packets of unsolicited seeds arriving in the mail. Packages of seeds labeled as jewelry or in Chinese language have shown up in several states, including Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Washington. “I am urging folks to take this matter seriously,” Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller said on Monday. “An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture.” Florida’s agriculture department said it has received more than 160 reports of suspicious seed shipments. Commissioner Nikki Fried urged residents to leave the packages closed, “limit contact with them” and report the deliveries to state and USDA officials.

    The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said it’s working closely with USDA and DHS “to understand the origin of these unsolicited seeds from China that have entered our country illegally.” The group asked recipients to “keep the seeds and complete packaging, including mailing information,” and report it to officials.

    USDA says it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and states to protect U.S. agriculture and prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds. Recipients of any such seeds should secure them in sealed plastic bags until they are picked up by authorities.

    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin says China strictly adheres to restrictions on sending seeds and it appears the records on the packages have been falsified.

    SeedUnknown

     
  • Florida citrus producers plan to ask USTR for action against Mexican competitors that they accuse of benefiting from trade-distorting government policies. Monday was the last day to request to testify at two virtual hearings, which are set for Aug. 13 and 20. “The Florida citrus grower simply can't compete with a country that uses unfair, trade-distorting practices like Mexico's predatory pricing strategies and surging volumes, coupled with elaborate, ongoing subsidy programs to aid their growers in all aspects of production,” Michael Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said in the group’s request to testify. “We ask the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to deliver a viable, effective solution and trade remedies to address these unfair trading practices and to ensure the future sustainability of citrus production in Florida and the United States,” Sparks said.
     
  • Mexico unexpectedly posted its biggest-ever trade surplus in June as its economic crisis caused imports to slump, Bloomberg reports. Link
     
  • Trump announced two nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has been hamstrung by vacancies for two years. President Trump tapped Mark Christie, chairman of the Virginia State Corporation Commission, to fill a Republican slot at the agency. He also named Allison Clements, who spent a decade as a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, for a vacant Democratic seat. Attention will now shift to the confirmation process and how quickly the confirmation hearings for the pair will be scheduled for before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
     
  • Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to appear before a House committee today for a hearing on the federal response to the nationwide protests over police brutality. Barr will criticize “armed mobs” that have set out to “destroy the property and livelihoods of innocent business owners,” according to his prepared testimony. Barr offered a combative defense of his independence from Trump as he prepared to testify before a committee in the Democratic-controlled House for the first time since he became attorney general more than 17 months ago. “The president has not attempted to interfere,” Barr said in a six-page prepared statement for a House Judiciary Committee hearing today. “On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right.” Democrats say he’s abandoned the Justice Department’s political independence to back a president who demands nothing short of strict loyalty.

 

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