D.C. Dispatch: Iowa delegation makes ag trade push

By: - November 18, 2022 4:54 pm

Iowa's U.S. senators want U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to intervene in the Mexico government's plan to ban imports of genetically modified corn. Tai is shown here during an Iowa farm visit in August. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s federal legislators are calling for more support for Iowa farmers amid rising costs and potential cuts to international trade.

U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley called for the U.S. trade representative to intervene against the country’s plan to ban the importation of American genetically modified corn. The proposal would effectively stop the importation of 90% of U.S. corn to Mexico by January 2024, according to an Ernst news release.

According to the U.S. Grains Council, Mexico is the top customer of Iowa corn with 16 million tons exported to the country each year. Mexican agriculture officials said the country could cut imports of U.S. yellow corn by half, according to an October Reuters report, with plans to increase domestic production.

The Republican senators wrote a letter to Ambassador Katherine Tai, calling for her to formally request dispute settlement consultations under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.

“Any interruption to these shipments will severely affect our farmers and the state’s economy, and have dire economic consequences for the entire Corn Belt,” the senators wrote. “President Obrador’s decree is not only a non-starter for America’s farmers, but it is also impossible to implement.”

U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne and Ashley Hinson helped introduce legislation in the House supporting international agricultural trade. The Supporting Market Access to Reinvigorate Trade (SMART) Act would add nearly $470 million to two programs focused on exporting American-grown products.

Axne said doubling the funding for the Market Access and Foreign Market Development program could increase agricultural exports nationwide by over $7 billion. Iowa, which was the second-largest agricultural exporter by state in 2021, would reap major benefits from the increased funding, she said.

“Iowa farmers produce some of the highest quality products that feed and fuel the world,” Axne said in a statement. “Through further investment in the successful Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, producers will have access to new markets that will enable them to continue to compete globally against foreign competitors.”

Ernst: Address propane prices in the farm bill

Ernst also said the 2023 farm bill needs to expand its programs addressing the rising propane prices that are causing struggles for Iowa farmers. She talked with U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small about the opportunities to expand farm bill’s offering supporting farmers face rising energy costs at a Senate Agriculture subcommittee meeting Tuesday.

Torres Small focused on the Rural Energy for America Program, which provides loans and grants to farmers to implement new renewable energy systems and make existing machinery more energy efficient. Ernst said REAP is “historically underutilized,” but the undersecretary said some of the issues with Iowans getting energy funding may come from the program’s high demand.

“It’s my understanding that REAP is overwhelmingly oversubscribed, so we don’t have enough funds to get it out to all of the folks who are applying to it,” Torres Small said.

Senators weigh in on same-sex marriage bill

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was in the minority voting against the “Respect for Marriage Act” Wednesday, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

Ernst was one of the 12 Republicans who voted in favor of the legislation, which would federally codify protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. The push to pass further protections came after Justice Clarence Thomas’ comments in his assenting opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court case overturning Roe v. Wade, where he said the court could reconsider other precedents such as gay marriage and birth control access.

Grassley, who was just reelected to serve his eighth term, said his vote against the act was not in opposition to same-sex or interracial marriage, but that it could cause problems for religious communities which are against recognizing gay marriage. He also argued that there is no need for the legislation because there are “no efforts” to overturn the Court’s marriage precedents.

“This legislation is simply unnecessary,” Grassley said in a statement. “No one seriously thinks Obergefell is going to be overturned so we don’t need legislation. I’ve heard from multitudes of Iowans who are fearful of freedom of religion lawsuits.”

But Ernst said that she does not believe religious freedoms are under threat with the bill’s language.

“After hearing directly from Iowans, and closely reviewing the amended language, I believe this bill protects religious freedoms and will simply maintain the status quo in Iowa,” Ernst said in a statement.

The U.S. House passed the legislation in July, where U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra was the sole Iowa vote against the act. Senators are expected hold a final vote on the bill after Thanksgiving.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.