Ag groups both heartened and nervous about Trump’s early executive orders

Sara Wyant Special to the Farm Forum
Farm Forum

Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on January 20. In case you didn’t listen to his inaugural speech, he made it clear that his presidency is going to be unlike any other in recent history – in tone and in action.

Since day one in the oval office, Trump has unleashed a flurry of executive orders, met with congressional, business and labor leaders and visited with foreign dignitaries. And he’s been tweeting remarks on his personal Twitter feed throughout the day.

“The American dream is back. We’re going to create an environment for small business like we haven’t had in many, many decades!” Trump tweeted after issuing his latest executive order dealing with regulatory reform. That order requires that two regulations be revoked before any new one can be advanced.

Here is a list of many of the executive actions taken during Trump’s first week, some of which were heralded by agricultural groups and some of which made some of those same organizations very, very nervous.

• An order to work toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act while minimizing the economic and regulatory burdens on patients and states in the process.

• An order to review any new or pending regulations and withdraw from those that have not yet been published in the Federal Register, while postponing others from taking effect.

• An order to freeze hiring of federal civilian employees throughout the executive branch. As part of this freeze, no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances. This order exempts the military.

• Directed federal agencies in charge of hiring and budgeting for staff to develop a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.

• An order to “withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.”

• An order to streamline and expedite environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially “high priority” projects, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.

• Two orders to advance work and finalize the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines.

An order to streamline permitting and reduce regulatory burdens on domestic manufacturers.

• An order to secure the southern border of the United States and hire an additional 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and to authorize State and local law enforcement officials to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States.

• An order suspending the refugee program for 120 days and a 90-day ban on travel visas for people living in one of seven countries identified as hotbeds of terrorism: Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

• An order requiring agencies that whenever they introduce a new regulation, they must first repeal two other regulations.

And that’s just for starters. More executive orders are on the way.

Regulatory reform

Farm and ranch groups are generally supportive of efforts to repeal some of the most burdensome regulations.

Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, told Agri-Pulse that NPPC is generally supportive of the order as a means to make sure farmers, ranchers, and business owners “aren’t overburdened.”

“While there’s constantly new regulations added, there’s never any taken away,” Warner said. “At some point, something’s got to give.”

But there were also plenty of questions about which regulations would be affected by these orders.

In the legislative process, bills passed by Congress commonly require rulemaking by executive branch agencies. Warner says that rulemaking can get to such a point where regulations might be duplicative or outside the intent of Congress. NPPC isn’t necessarily trying to slice current regulations to a lower quota, Warner said, but NPPC members think a healthy look at what’s on the books could be a good thing.

“It’s not a matter of numbers … do they work and are they something that Congress actually asked for?” Warner said.

But others aren’t so sure how the order would work in the reality of a government agency.

For example, if a new regulation is produced by the Agriculture Department, would two USDA regulations need to go or would regulations from another department also be up for grabs? What about rulemaking that updates programs but is not a completely new regulation such as annual blending targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard?

The order simply states that whenever a new regulation is promulgated or offered up for public comment, the proposing agency or department “shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.”

“To the extent this stays in place and doesn’t get modified, you’re going to have a lot of people at a lot of agencies and outside organizations digging through to see where there’s any dead weight that would be easy to throw overboard,” noted Ferd Hoefner, with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Lawyers are still trying to figure out what it all means for the upcoming farm bill and many other issues, but there is an exemption that may cover rules necessary to implement a farm bill.

“The language seems to be exceedingly clear that ‘regulations required by law’ will be exempt from the executive order,” says David Graves of the lobbying firm McLeod, Watkinson and Miller. Graves is manager and secretary of the American Association of Crop Insurers.

Trade worries

Trump’s executive orders on trade are perhaps the most worrisome for the agriculture sector, although the crackdown on illegal immigration could make it even harder to find workers.

One of Trump’s first actions was to pull the U.S. of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact that most U.S. farm groups counted on to help boost sales for producers who are struggling with low prices and rising financial stress.

He also wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, outlining new deals with two of our top trading partners, Canada and Mexico.

The American Farm Bureau Federation predicted that tariff cuts and other measures in just the TPP would net farmers an extra $4.4 billion annually, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was counting on the pact to help it compete with Australia for Japan’s massive beef demand.

Wheat farmers were also hoping the deal would be approved. “U.S. wheat farmers depend heavily on export demand to determine their per-bushel income,” said Jason Scott, chairman of the U.S. Wheat Associates. “We can compete very effectively in Asian and Latin American markets where the demand for high quality wheat is rapidly increasing and our organizations took a long view of the benefits TPP held out — a trade agreement that promoted economic growth abroad as a way to grow export sales and prosperity for farmers at home.”

Now, farm groups are anxious about what comes next and how they can boost agricultural exports.

Groups like the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the Farm Bureau are saying that trade expansion is too important to abandon just because the U.S. has pulled out of TPP.

“With this decision, it is critical that the new administration begin work immediately to do all it can to develop new markets for U.S. agricultural goods and to protect and advance U.S. agricultural interests in the critical Asia-Pacific region,” Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

If the U.S. can’t have a multilateral trade deal with the TPP nations (Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Malaysia), farm groups and lawmakers say the U.S. needs to start moving on bilateral agreements.

“Moving forward, we expect to see a plan in place as soon as possible to engage the TPP partner nations and capture the value that we lose with the withdrawal,” said American Soybean Association President Ron Moore.

“Also, we expect a seat at the table to help ensure these agreements in whatever form they take are crafted to capture their full value for soybean farmers. Trade is too important for us to support anything less.”

Editor’s note: Agri-Pulse Editors Spencer Chase and Philip Brasher contributed to this report.