From agricultural labor to farm bill programs, regulations and trade agreements, the policies and decisions made in Washington, D.C., impact your business every day. Responding to these critical issues and ensuring the “apple voice” is heard by members of Congress and the administration is a top priority for the USApple staff and our volunteer leadership.
USApple is the only national organization focused solely on the needs of the U.S. apple industry. From agricultural labor and H-2A issues to food safety regulations and crop insurance policies, the apple industry has unique needs and challenges that need to be taken into account in crafting legislation and regulations.
With a new Congress set to convene in January and a divided government, 2019 promises to be busy, to say the least. At press time, questions remained regarding implementation of the new Farm Bill and funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall. The outcome of both could impact USApple in the coming year, as the Farm Bill is a top priority and border wall funding could pull in broader immigration reform discussions. But regardless of what happens, we do know that there will be challenges to be confronted and opportunities to seize.
The new Congress will hit the reset button on agricultural labor and immigration issues. Early indicators point to an appetite to give it another try, at least in the House. With Democrats controlling the process, issues related to the current workforce should be more easily addressed while, conversely, improvements to the H-2A program could prove more challenging.
Both are equally critical. USApple will actively engage returning members of the House as well as educate freshmen on these issues. The bottom line is that we need both a long- and short-term solution. The current (non-H-2A) workforce needs to be stabilized and the antiquated H-2A program needs to be improved or replaced with a reliable, affordable, modern system.
Though control of the Senate remains the same, Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is leaving to take the helm of the Finance Committee. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is expected to assume the chairmanship, and that’s good news. Graham has long been an advocate for sensible immigration reforms and is well acquainted with the challenges facing agriculture. He has been a strong advocate for advancing reforms.
While there may be a renewed push for reform, the issue remains incredibly divisive and we must continue to work on two tracks, pursuing incremental changes and improvements to H-2A until an overhaul can be achieved. USApple is working closely with the Trump Administration as it pursues regulatory and programmatic improvements to the program that can be made without legislation. Last month, the Labor Department announced plans to replace the requirement to advertise in print publications with online advertisements. This will result in significant cost savings for growers. The Agriculture Department is in the final stages of reforming the wage surveys that form the basis for the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR). The improved survey will be in place in time to impact the 2020 AEWR.
The new U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA) was signed by President Trump and his Mexican and Canadian counterparts on Nov. 30. This is good news for the apple industry, as it maintains duty-free access into both countries and addresses other important dispute resolutions in the current North American Free Trade Agreement. USApple and our volunteer leaders made successful negotiation of the new agreement a top priority in 2018.
Now Congress must ratify the USMCA, and that could present challenges, as many on both sides of the aisle simply don’t like trade agreements and some Democrats are reluctant to support anything put forward by President Trump. Getting the agreement across the finish line is critical as President Trump continues to threaten withdrawal from NAFTA if Congress fails to act. USApple will work on our own and with like-minded agriculture and business coalitions as the process moves forward.
While the USMCA is a clear victory, pre-NAFTA tariffs remain in place with Mexico due to the ongoing trade dispute concerning steel and aluminum. Initial speculation was that, once the USMCA agreement was settled, the administration would lift the steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada, but that has not occurred and there has been no indication when it will. Therefore, and as part of our strong push in support of the ratification of the USMCA, we must also advocate for resolution of the tariffs so that duty-free access to Mexico can resume.
USApple’s government affairs committee will meet in February and set the legislative priorities for the coming year. Those will form the basis for our Capitol Hill day in March when leaders from Washington and across the country will “storm the hill” to advocate for the industry. In the meantime, the USApple staff will continue to follow these issues closely and work to ensure the apple perspective is front and center in these debates and discussions. •
—by Diane Kurrle
Diane Kurrle is senior vice president for the USApple Association.