ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- It now looks like tomorrow at the earliest before there can be any floor consideration of a new farm bill in the House. That's because the Rules Committee has another day scheduled for today to deal with the more than 100 amendments that have been offered to the bill. Those amendments deal with issues like food stamps, conservation, crop insurance, forestry, payment limits for farm programs, the sugar program as well as many other amendments that are always offered when a new farm bill is being considered. Some observers say it now looks like it could be next week before a floor vote could be taken, partly because Ag Committee chairman, Mike Conaway of Texas is still scrambling to find enough votes to pass it out of the House.
It's also doubtful that NAFTA negotiators will meet House Speaker Paul Ryan's call for a final agreement by tomorrow, May 17th, so Congress will have enough time to vote on it during the upcoming lame duck session. That's because the negotiators don't have any face to face meetings scheduled for this week-they plan to keep in touch with phone calls. It now looks like the earliest the talks would get re-started would be sometime next week. Officials involved in the talks say issues like auto rules, a sunset clause for the deal and how to set up a dispute settlement panel are some of the toughest issues yet to be resolved.
Meanwhile a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to make sure Mexico honors its existing trade obligations by rejecting the European Union's trade proposal to honor geographic indicators when it comes to cheese. Last month Mexico and the EU reached an agreement that would give European producers exclusive rights to the use of 340 food names in Mexico. That would mean the U.S. wouldn't be able to use names like feta, Muenster or parmesan on cheeses going to Mexico. The senators argue in their letter that while the Europeans consider those names geographical, in the U.S. they are considered generic names. Losing even a portion of the Mexican cheese market would put even more pressure on dairy prices since about one third of the $1.3 billion in dairy products they buy from us each year are cheese purchases. Both Wisconsin U.S. senators signed that letter.
Part of the reason NAFTA talks are on the back burner is because China's vice premier is in Washington this week to talk trade. And he said he is confident the two countries can come to an early agreement on many trade issues, in spite of the lack of progress made recently when that high level U.S. trade delegation visited China a couple of weeks ago. Vice Premier Liu said he thinks some short term issues can be settled this week with some longer term trade issues taking more time.
Another commodity group is having a spring vote. This time it's Christmas tree growers around the country who are currently voting on whether or not they want to continue their national check-off program. The program checks off 15 cents for every tree sold for promotional and research efforts. The current voting period runs through May 31st. Wisconsin currently ranks 5th in Christmas tree production-behind Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan and Pennsylvania.