Stopgap Spending Bill Accord Reached but Grandstanding Lawmaker Games Still Possible

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Higher crop prices drive increase in 2021 forecast farm income

In Today’s Digital Newspaper

Market Focus:
• USDA daily export sales, 2021-22 marketing year:

  — 164,100 MT soybeans to unknown destinations
  — 130,000 MT of soybeans to China
• Jobless claims: First-time filings totaled 222,000, less than 240,000 expected
• Rising commodity prices main driver in higher farm income forecast for 2021
• Yellen defends, pushes BBB proposal
• Eurozone October producer price index up 5.4% from September, up 21.9%, year-on-year
• Dems push Pelosi on easing supply chain bottlenecks
• OPEC+ is meeting, via videoconference
• Bank of America analysts: Brent crude oil to possibly reach $120 a barrel by mid-2022
• Ag demand update

• Grain, soybean futures extend Wednesday’s corrective gains overnight
• Most feedlots passing on steady cash prices
• Cash hog index firms, but pork cutout continues to drop 

Policy Focus:
• Dems announce stopgap spending accord; some GOP lawmakers may impact timing
• USDA expands sunflower crop insurance pushed by N.D. and S.D. lawmakers 

China Update:
• Women’s Tennis Association calls off tournaments in China
• China buys of U.S. beef, pork, sorghum and soybeans highlight activity in most recent week
• China buys U.S., Brazilian soybeans on price drop
• China’s state planner to guarantee energy supplies to fertilizer manufacturers
• Advisers recommend lower GDP target for China next year  
• Last remaining co-founder of China dairy giant Mengniu resigns 

Energy & Climate Change:
• Company halts Jordan Cove LNG project  
• Higher energy prices fueling renewable-energy revolution

Livestock, Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• World food prices continue to
• Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act of 2021 introduced but faces hurdles 

Coronavirus Update:
• Biden today will sketch out latest plan to quell pandemic that’s dogged his presidency
• Market impact of Omicron 

Politics & Elections:
• Rep. DeFazio latest Democrat to announce he will not run in 2022
• Democrat Stacey Abrams launches second run for Georgia governor in 2022
• GOP Baker will not seek re-election as Massachusetts governor 

Other Items of Note:
• DOL proposes shift in setting H-2A wages
• Blinken warns Russian counterpart if Moscow makes military move on Ukraine
• Biden reaches deal with Mexican gov’t to restart Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program
• Supreme Court’s conservatives questioned precedents re: abortion rights
• USTR issues notice formally suspending Section 301 investigation on India DST  
• New NPPC chief: Bryan Humphries
• Major League Baseball stages a lockout
• Walmart removes listing for popular children’s Christmas toy


Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed to weaker in overnight trading. The U.S. Dow opened around 120 points higher. Then stocks mostly lower. Asian equities were mixed as omicron Covid variant impacted trading activity in some markets. The Nikkei fell 182.25 points, 0.65%, at 17,753.37. The Hang Seng Index rose 130.01 points, 0.55%, at 23,788.93. European equities are seeing sizable losses in early trading, with the Stoxx 600 down 1.8% and regional markets down 1.1% to around 2%.

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow fell 461,68 points, 1.34%, at 34,022.04. The Nasdaq declined 283.64 points, 1.83%, at 15,254.05. The S&P 500 was down 53.96 points, 1.18% at 4,513.04.


On tap today:

     • U.S. jobless claims are expected to rise to 240,000 in the week ended Nov. 27 from 199,000 one week earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET) UPDATE: Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose last week but held at levels consistent with how the job market looked before the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the U.S. jobs picture, the Labor Department reported. First-time filings totaled 222,000, less than the 240,000 expected.
     • Federal Reserve speakers: Governor Randal Quarles to the American Enterprise Institute at 11 a.m. ET, Atlanta’s Raphael Bostic at a Reuters Next event at 11:30 a.m. ET, and Richmond’s Thomas Barkin and San Francisco’s Mary Daly on the labor market at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Rising commodity prices main driver in higher farm income forecast for 2021. U.S. net farm income is forecast to reach $116.8 billion in 2021, up $22.0 billion (23.2%) from 2020 with the 2020 result up $15.7 billion (19.9%) from 2019, according to the Farm Sector Income Forecast from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

     Some initial highlights:

  • Higher crop receipts increase forecast income to highest level since 2013.
  • Gov’t payments to fall dramatically as ad-hoc, disaster payouts decline.
  • Input costs rising in nearly every category.

     Net cash farm income is forecast to increase and reach $133.0 billion in 2021, up $17.0 billion (14.7%) from 2020, ERS said. Net cash farm income includes cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income (including gov’t payments) minus cash expenses. It does not include noncash items — including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income of operator dwellings — reflected in the net farm income.

     Higher cash receipts offsetting downturn in gov’t payments, higher expenses. Farm cash receipts are expected to reach a high of $427.3 billion in 2021, up $64.7 billion (17.8%) from 2020, ERS said, with crop receipts forecast up $35.4 billion (17.9%) from 2020 levels to $233.0 billion. Corn, soybeans, and wheat combined account for much of the rise in cash receipts — $35.3 billion (36.4 %). Total animal/animal product receipts are expected to increase by $29.3 billion (17.7%) to $194.3 billion following increases in receipts for broilers, cattle/calves, and hogs.

     But working against the increase in crop receipts in the overall farm income picture is a fall in direct gov’t farm program payments of $18.5 billion (40.4%) in 2021, putting them at $27.2 billion. “Much of this decline is because of lower supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance to farmers and ranchers for the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic compared with 2020 and the closure of the Market Facilitation Program,” ERS said.

     Supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance payments in 2021 are forecast at $19.9 billion, down $11.7 billion from 2020, “primarily because of lower total payments from Covid-19-related assistance programs,” ERS detailed. Also lower in 2021 compared with 2020 are forecast pandemic assistance, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Payments in calendar year 2021 from these USDA programs are forecast at $8.0 billion, down sharply from $23.5 billion in 2020.

     Non-USDA pandemic assistance (payments from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), administered by the Small Business Administration) is forecast at $8.7 billion for 2021, compared with $6.0 billion in 2020. However, ERS cautioned this area could be “revised as more data become available, with any unforgiven amounts included in farm debt instead of direct payments.”

     As for the farm programs embodied in the 2018 Farm Bill, ERS forecasts just $95 million in payments under the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program in calendar 2021, down $1.2 billion from 2020. Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments in 2021 are expected be $2.1 billion, a reduction of $2.8 billion from 2020 levels. “ARC payments are expected to decrease in 2021 because of higher commodity prices for all covered commodities and higher yields in 2020 compared with 2019 levels, particularly for corn and soybeans,” ERS noted. “PLC payments are expected to decrease in 2021 because of higher prices for all covered commodities in 2020 compared with 2019.”

     Dairy producers enrolled in the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program are forecast to receive net payments totaling $1.1 billion, up from $200 million in 2020 due to higher feed costs.

     Conservation payments from the financial assistance programs of USDA's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service are expected to be $4.0 billion in 2021, up 3.9% from 2020.

     There are also still $83.9 million from the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) included in the 2021 forecast.

     Another factor lowering the income picture are production expenses as they are forecast to hit $387.6 billion in 2021, up $29.8 billion (8.3%) from 2020. “Nearly all categories of expenses are forecast to be higher in 2021, with feed and livestock/poultry purchases expected to see the largest dollar increases,” ERS said.

     Feed expenses are seen rising to $64.4 billion, up $7.6 billion (13.4%) from 2020 in nominal terms, reflecting higher prices for feed commodities. Livestock and poultry purchases are forecast to increase by $4.5 billion (15.6%) to $33.5 billion in nominal terms.

     Fuel and oil expenses are projected to increase to $15.8 billion, up $3.9 billion (32.2%) from 2020, mostly due to the Energy Information Agency's November forecast of higher diesel prices in 2021, up by 72 cents per gallon compared with 2020.

     But fertilizer-lime-soil conditioner expenses are forecast to hit $27.5 billion in 2021, up $3.1 billion (12.5%) in nominal terms from 2020. However, pesticide costs for 2021 are forecast to have declined slightly in nominal terms—less than $10 million (less than 0.1%).

     Interest expenses are also expected to increase by $1.3 billion (6.6%) in 2021, totaling $20.6 billion, because of higher interest expenses on real estate debt.

     Farmers’ working capital to increase again. The improved farm income picture is also adding to farmers’ working capital. USDA currently forecasts that to rise to $92.85 billion in 2021, up from $84.75 billion in 2020, and the highest since it was at $121.04 billion in 2014 and is the fifth straight increase in working capital.

     Perspective: While higher incomes are welcome, especially via higher crop prices versus higher gov’t payments that were seen in 2019 and 2020. Still, the increased costs for 2021 appear poised to rise again in 2022, and that will likely tap into that working capital level which bottomed out in 2016 at $65.19 billion. Despite rising debt, farmers are still in solid shape from a debt-to-asset and debt-to-equity perspective. The debt-to-asset ratio in 2021 is forecast at 13.91, basically unchanged from 13.90 in 2020, while the debt-to-equity ratio is at 16.16 in 2021, nearly steady with the 2020 mark of 16.14. While the highest levels for both readings since 2002, they are still well shy of the levels seen at the height of the farm crisis in 1985 when the debt-to-asset ratio hit 22.19 and the debt-to-equity ratio was at 26.51.

Yellen defends, pushes BBB proposal. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday defended Democrats’ efforts to pass a roughly $2 trillion social-spending package, amid Republicans’ criticisms that fiscal policy implemented earlier this year overstimulated the economy and fueled higher inflation. “Inflation is a matter of demand and supply, and it’s certainly true that the American Rescue Plan put money into people’s pockets,” Yellen said. “But if you look at the amount of inflation that we have and its causes, that is at most a small contributor.”

Eurozone reported its October producer price index at up 5.4% from September and up 21.9%, year-on-year. Those hot numbers were even hotter than the elevated PPI numbers that were forecast.

Dems push Pelosi on easing supply chain bottlenecks. A group of House Democrats that includes several facing tough re-elections are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to allow votes on legislation to ease supply chain bottlenecks that have led to shortages, shipping delays and rising inflation and have contributed to a decline in Biden’s approval ratings. “As our constituents gather for the holiday season, it is imperative Congress acts to address the needs of the nation through additional action to specifically address the supply chain and resulting higher prices experienced by families across the country,” the lawmakers said in the letter (link). The group of more than 20 House Democrats are led by Reps. Cindy Axne (Iowa), Susie Lee (Nev.) and Susan Wild (Pa.). Axne and Lee are vulnerable in 2022 and are getting slammed by Republican PACs on the airwaves, while Wild could also face a tough re-election depending on new district lines in Pennsylvania.

Market perspectives:

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index was slightly weaker ahead of U.S. economic reports, with the euro and British pound both slightly higher versus the greenback. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note was slightly higher, trading around 1.42%, bucking a trend of lower yields in global government bonds. Gold and silver futures are mixed ahead of U.S. economic reports, with gold weaker around $1,780 per troy ounce and silver firmer around $22.48 per troy ounce.

     • Crude oil prices have shifted to slight losses as traders await the OPEC+ meeting results. US crude is trading around $65.45 per barrel and Brent around $68.85 per barrel. Crude was higher in Asian trading, with US crude up 64 cents at $66.21 per barrel and Brent up 68 cents at $69.55 per barrel.         

     • EU official says low carbon hydrogen could help reduce future energy price spikes. European Union (EU) Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson told the EU Hydrogen Week event in Brussels that increasing the role of low carbon hydrogen in the bloc could help temper future energy price spikes, Reuters reported. "I believe hydrogen can play an important role to reduce such price spikes in the future by helping to reduce demand and enabling large scale storage," Simson said. The EU and a handful of international companies are eyeing investments to boost green hydrogen — hydrogen produced using renewable energy — to use as a clean fuel for heavy industrial users.

     • OPEC+ is meeting, via videoconference. Faced by falls in the price of Brent crude, provoked partly by concerns over the economic impact of the Omicron variant, OPEC will decide whether to release more oil on to the market or restrain supply.

     • Bank of America market analysts forecast the price of Brent crude oil to possibly reach $120 a barrel by the middle of next year. Prices are trading around $70.00 at present. Meantime, OPEC officials said Wednesday that oil markets face a surplus in the first quarter of next year.

     • USDA daily export sales, 2021-22 marketing year:

        — 164,100 MT soybeans to unknown destinations

        — 130,000 MT of soybeans to China

     • Ag demand: Japan purchased 26,263 MT of Australian wheat from its weekly tender. Saudi Arabia tendered to buy 535,000 MT of wheat from various origins.

     • NWS weather: Widespread record-breaking warmth likely throughout the central United States today... ...Gusty winds and fire weather concerns located over the northern High Plains and central Appalachians... ...Scattered showers and lake effect snow forecast across the Great Lakes and Northeast through Friday morning.

        Wx Today

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include:

     • Grain, soybean futures extend Wednesday’s corrective gains overnight
     • Most feedlots passing on steady cash prices
     • Cash hog index firms, but pork cutout continues to drop


— Top Democrat announces FY 2022 spending agreement. House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced early today that Congress has reached an agreement on a spending deal to fund the gov’t through Feb. 18, as lawmakers work to stave off a shutdown after Friday. DeLauro said the legislation “includes virtually no changes to existing funding or policy” to apply pressure for a larger deal for a spending omnibus in the months ahead. “However, Democrats prevailed in including $7 billion for Afghanistan evacuees. The end date is February 18. While I wish it were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,” she said.

     The stopgap measure puts agencies on autopilot, freezing in place program funding levels and forbidding new contracts, with few exceptions, one of which being $7 billion in funding to aid Afghan evacuees, as noted.

     But some grandstanding lawmaker games could still occur. Meeting the fast-approaching end-of-week deadline will require cooperation by Senate Republicans, who have the power to drag out the process. It would only take one senator to slow the process down enough to force a brief shutdown, likely dragging out the process for nearly a week. Without unanimous consent to skip any procedural hurdles, senators could be forced to file for cloture on both the motion to proceed to the bill and on the bill itself. Each cloture vote would still allow for another 30 hours of debate.

— USDA expands sunflower crop insurance pushed by North Dakota and South Dakota lawmakers. At the request of Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced they will be allowing sunflower enterprise and optional units to be insured by type under the sunflower crop insurance system. In September, Cramer led the North Dakota and South Dakota delegations on a letter to RMA urging them to improve the sunflower crop insurance system by allowing enterprise units to be insured by type. RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger responded to the letter (link) stating the RMA’s intent to implement the changes requested.

     Cramer comments: “I am glad to see the Risk Management Agency plans to make this change for the 2022 crop year. As we have seen in recent years, producers frequently face unpredictable weather and growing conditions. Crop insurance provides much needed certainty, and making this change improves the risk management tools available to sunflower producers,” said Sen. Cramer.

     Background: North Dakota and South Dakota are the two leading states for sunflower production, which accounted for approximately 84% of production in 2020.

     The National Sunflower Association, headquartered in Mandan, North Dakota, issued a statement reacting to the response from the RMA. “Having enterprise units by sunflower type will strengthen coverage options and increase consistency, clarity, and flexibility, making crop insurance a better risk management tool for sunflower producers. We greatly appreciate the support of the North Dakota and South Dakota congressional delegations in obtaining this important change to the sunflower crop insurance program,” said National Sunflower Association Executive Director John Sandbakken.


— Women’s Tennis Association calls off tournaments in China. The organization followed through on warnings that it would suspend play after its chief expressed concern about the safety of Peng Shuai, who had accused a top gov’t official of sexual assault. But no other sports association, including the International Olympics Commission, which said it held a call with Peng yesterday, is following suit.

— China buys of U.S. beef, pork, sorghum and soybeans highlight activity in most recent week. Major net export sales activity to China in the week ended Nov. 25 showed 337,700 tonnes of sorghum, 657,100 tonnes of soybeans, and 123,600 running bales of upland cotton for 2021/22. Sales for 2021 of 3.300 tonnes of beef and 12,400 tonnes of pork were also reported.

— China buys U.S., Brazilian soybeans on the price drop. China booked three to four cargoes of U.S. soybeans from the Gulf for shipment in December and January on this week’s sharp price break, Reuters reports, citing export sources. China also bought some soybeans from Brazil this week. China has around 85% of its estimated December soybean purchases booked, along with about half of its January needs, one U.S. export trader told Reuters.

— China’s state planner to guarantee energy supplies to fertilizer manufacturers. China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said it would guarantee supplies of key energy feedstocks for fertilizer companies, urging coal and natural gas enterprises to fulfil contracts signed with producers of the crop nutrient. NDRC says it has established working groups with local governments to ensure the stability of fertilizer production and supply for spring planting.

— Advisers recommend lower GDP target for China next year. Advisers to China's government will recommend Beijing set a 2022 economic growth target below the one for this year, giving policymakers more room to push structural reforms amid growing challenges to the outlook. Three advisers told Reuters they have drafted recommendations for annual economic growth targets in 2022 ranging from as low as 5% to 5.5%, ahead of the annual Central Economic Work Conference this month, down from the “above 6%” target set for this year. Economists expect Chinese policymakers will boost monetary and fiscal support next year to help the slowing economy, having focused on fending off real estate bubbles this year.

— Last remaining co-founder of China dairy giant Mengniu resigns. Management reshuffle sees Niu Gensheng quit posts at the company he co-founded in 1999. Link for details.


— Company halts Jordan Cove LNG project. A filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is asking the regulatory panel to vacate its authorization for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline. “Despite diligent and persistent efforts, applicants have not been able to obtain the necessary state-issued permits and authorizations from various Oregon state agencies,” the filing said. The project was greenlighted by FERC in 2020 but was challenged in court, which sent the matter back to FERC.

— Higher energy prices are fueling the renewable-energy revolution. This will be another record year for building wind and solar farms, according to the International Energy Agency. The investment comes despite much higher costs. In the past two years, freight rates have risen nearly sixfold, the cost of polysilicon used in solar panels has more than quadrupled, and prices of steel, copper and aluminum are up by half or more. The case for building more renewable-energy production still adds up because of higher power prices — driven partly by a global bidding war for gas, coal and other fuels used in heating and power.



— World food prices continue to climb. The food price index from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) climbed another 1.2% in November and was 27.3% above year. This marked the fourth consecutive monthly rise in the index, pushing it to the highest level since June 2011. Among the sub-indices, prices for cereals (up 3.1%) and dairy (up 3.4%) rose most significantly, followed by sugar (up 1.4%), while meat (down 0.9%) and vegoils (down 0.3%) prices declined slightly from October.

— Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act of 2021 introduced but faces hurdles. As expected, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the bipartisan Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act of 2021 in the Senate. The legislation launches national hearings on Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) pricing methods.

     Comments: In a Congress that can’t agree on a host of issues, including lingering efforts on fiscal year 2022 spending, it is unlikely lawmakers will tackle this issue, especially because there is no consensus within the dairy sector. The industry does not need Congress to go to a hearing. A farmer or organization can petition USDA to go to a hearing anytime (link). Says one dairy policy analyst: “I think the challenge is the industry is not united on what a new milk price system should look like, and if they go to a hearing, you could risk some orders voted out if there is no consensus or USDA proposes a system that is not preferred by a marketing order cooperative. That, plus the ad hoc program (link) is why NMPF never followed through on their pledge to petition USDA for a hearing.”


Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 263,652,772 with 5,227,659 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 48,692,582 with 782,100 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 463,263,845 doses administered, 197,363,115 have been fully vaccinated, or 60.12% of the U.S. population.

— President Biden today will sketch out his latest plan to quell the pandemic that’s dogged his presidency, a day after the first U.S. case of the omicron variant was identified in California. His latest measures include stricter testing requirements for air travelers arriving from abroad, extending a mask mandate and requiring private insurers to reimburse the cost of at-home tests.

— Market impact of Omicron: Strategists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a note that should the Omicron variant prove less deadly, it would fit with the historical pattern of virus evolution — something that would be positive for risk appetite.


— Rep. DeFazio latest Democrat to announce he will not run in 2022. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) announced Wednesday he will not seek another term in the House in 2022, ending a career in the chamber that began in 1987. He is now the nineteenth House Democrat that is either not running for re-election in 2022 or is seeking another office. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced she plans to seek the panel’s chair role in the next Congress, currently the second most senior Democrat on the committee and chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) is also interested in running for the top slot, according to his office. Norton is more senior than Larsen on the panel, but her status as a delegate prevents her from voting for or against bills on the House floor.

— Democrat Stacey Abrams launched her anticipated second run for Georgia governor in 2022, pledging to fight so that opportunity and success aren’t “determined by your zip code, background or access to power.” The announcement sets up a potential rematch against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who narrowly defeated Abrams in her 2018 bid to become the nation’s first female Black governor.

— Baker will not seek re-election as Massachusetts governor. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Massachusetts Republican who has been one of his party’s most outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump, announced he won’t seek a third term in 2022. Trump had endorsed a primary challenger against him; without Baker in the race, Democrats will likely be able to pick up the state’s governorship.


— DOL proposes shift in setting H-2A wages. The Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing to use a combination of USDA’s Farm Labor Survey (FLS) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey in determining hourly adverse effect wage rates (AEWR). The proposal would use the FLS to establish the AEWRs for vast majority of H-2A jobs represented by six occupations comprising the field and livestock worker (combined) wages. For all other occupations where the FLS does not report wage data, DOL is proposing to use the OEWS survey to establish the AEWRs. The notice published in the Federal Register Dec. 1 (link) would meet the “statutory responsibility to certify that the employment of H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed.” DOL said it was proposing to no longer use the Employment Cost Index (ECI) to adjust AEWRs that was part of the 2020 rule finalized by the Trump administration but was challenged in court. Comments on the proposed changes are due by Jan. 31.

— Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned his Russian counterpart of “serious consequences” if Moscow makes a military move on Ukraine as the Kremlin said it sees rising risk of attack by its neighbor on Russia-backed separatists there. There is “evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves,” said Blinken, including “efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large-scale military operations.” Blinken’s statements come as Moscow announced it would expel certain U.S. diplomats from the country by Jan. 31, likely in retaliation for Washington’s earlier removal of more than 50 Russian diplomats.

— Biden administration reached a deal with the Mexican gov’t to restart the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program that requires asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed, the Washington Post reports, citing two U.S. officials and a Mexican government official. The governments are planning to announce the agreement today, according to two of the officials.

— Abortion case: The Supreme Court’s conservative majority sharply questioned precedents underlying constitutional protections for abortion rights as justices heard arguments on a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

— USTR issues notice formally suspending Section 301 investigation on India DST. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) today (December 1) published a notice in the Federal Register (link) formally announcing the suspension of the Section 301 investigation into India’s Digital Services Tax (DST). The notice stated that additional duties against products from India were terminated as of Nov. 28.

— New NPPC chief: Bryan Humphries, senior vice president of the National Pork Board, will begin work as chief executive of the National Pork Producers Council on Dec. 21, the group said.

— Major League Baseball stages a lockout. The league suffered its first work stoppage in three decades after players and owners failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The two sides remain far apart, so it isn’t clear whether the lockout will run into the regular season.

— Walmart has removed the listing for a popular children’s Christmas toy after reports that the dancing, rapping cactus was singing inappropriate tunes in Polish. A woman in Canada was shocked to discover that the smiling green device was performing a tune by the Polish rapper Cypis including lyrics such as “The only thing in my head is five grams of cocaine / Fly away alone, to the edge of oblivion.” According to the Guardian, “later lines include swearing, graphic imagery and references to depression.”



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