In its rush to blow out of steamy Washington D.C. for a month of cooler temperatures and cooler tempers, Congress ran the legislative meat grinder hard in the final days of July to crank out enough fat-laden sausage to sate even the hungriest special interest.
It was expected. Congress has been dinging words and slicing pork since the Revolution – the original Revolution, not the Reagan one.
What is new, however, is that no one seems appalled by the wink-wink way July’s fatty laws were passed.
Consider the after-midnight House vote to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Trade deal. Although a solid majority of Americans opposed the trade deal, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert stopped the 15-minute vote clock for nearly an hour just as the voting period was about to close so the White House and its corporate cronies could break enough legs and crack enough skulls to eek out a 217-215 victory.
Even more appalling, one of the deciding votes limped into the yea column after the White House promised a GOP congressman from textile-smashed North Carolina new protections against imported Chinese clothing.
Conversation. Imagine the tariffs-for-free-trade conversation.
“Congressman, this here is W. We need ya’ on this CAFTA thing, buddy.”
“Gee, Mr. President, that’s a tough one because my people are buried under Chinese-made socks and underwear.”
“Lookie here, my friend, the military’s gonna’ buy them skivvies and I’ll do my doggonedest to get ya’ new tariffs on socks. Now, are ya’ with me or am I gonna’ have to get Karl on the blower to tell you who you’ll lose to next year?”
“You can count on me, Mr. President.”
In dollar terms, the trade agreement is a relatively minor pact.
According to the Wall Street Journal, annual U.S. imports from the six Central American Free Trade Agreement countries total what America buys from China in one month.
In political terms, though, the trade agreement was the Big Casino: Without a trade agreement victory, the Bush administration’s plan for the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas was dead and the broader World Trade Organization Doha deal nearly dead.
Tyson link. Hope for each now revives. Big Ag, like Tyson Foods, wants both.
Take a read, courtesy of Dow Jones, what John Tyson told stock analysts Aug. 1 when discussing the short-term investment strategy of the world’s biggest chicken and cattle killer:
“Chief Executive John Tyson said the Springdale, Ark., company remains on the lookout for growth opportunities outside the U.S., and ‘we’ll have some acquisitions within six to 12 months.’ He put their cost at between $50 million and $150 million.
“‘We’d like to expand our presence in Mexico, and not just with chicken,’ he said. In China, ‘we believe we can bring some consolidation skills and ag production techniques,’ including ownership of live product, he said.
“Tyson also said management has been eyeing Brazil for several years and concluded that the company needs to be able to sell product in that country, as well as export from there.”
Export “from there” to where? To everywhere, including the U.S., because with a cattle herd nearly twice America’s, Brazil is poised to become a beef exporting powerhouse.
The USDA, like the White House, is doing its part to make Tyson’s – really, every ag master of the universe – business plan a winner.
Donation. The day after its trade agreement victory July 28, USDA announced it was donating 21,250 metric tons, or about 836,500 bushels., of corn and 8,750 tons of soybean meal to the U.S. Grains Council, “a private organization, for use in Iraq.”
The gift, at Aug. 1 market prices, is valued at nearly $3.7 million.
The kicker, however, is since USDA holds no corn or soymeal stocks it had to purchase the products, then give ’em over to the Council which, in turn, plans to sell both to bankroll a “revolving credit fund to help rebuild the Iraqi poultry industry and create greater demand market for U.S. feed grain exports.”
Now that’s real pork; a $3.7 million gift to build an Iraqi poultry industry that someday Tyson will likely own.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)