Showing the weight of lobbying

We all love the famous quote, “laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made,” attributed to German statesman Otto von Bismarck.

Last month, hundreds in the produce industry were making sausage in Washington, DC, as they have the past 20 years at the annual Washington Conference hosted by United Fresh BB #:145458.

Attendees hear from political insiders and politicians themselves, and then visit their Congress members to explain their positions.

While it’s important that Senators and U.S. representatives hear from their constituents in the produce industry, Congress usually reverts to its paralyzed, partisan ways, with little legislation to show for the industry’s efforts.

But this year, that may change.

Two of the three main messages – trade and ag labor reform – are close to agreements that would tremendously help the produce industry.

Is it all because of the September meetings?

Before you scoff, organizer and United Fresh’s senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther said in early October that the timing of the meetings was critical.

Agriculture interests have been working on both issues this spring and summer.

“Maybe the stars aligned,” Guenther said about the timing of the September conference. “It was a critical point and having so many industry members present a united front on it helped.”

He said agriculture, including the produce industry, has worked on a comprehensive immigration plan that included a provision for ag labor, but it’s gone nowhere, with Congress members entrenched in their pro and anti-immigration positions.

But this year, the industry supports a separate ag labor provision, unrelated to comprehensive immigration.

“There were House members on both sides interested in an ag bill, a blue card bill, for guest workers,” Guenther said.

He said a bipartisan agriculture bill could come soon from the House.

On trade, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which would replace NAFTA, has been in the works for many months, but Guenther said all the signs he’s seen are positive.

“Every indication is that Democrats want to get to ‘yes,’ and get this passed this fall,” he said.

Bloomberg News reported recently that Democrats made a counteroffer on USMCA in late September that covered their areas of concern, including labor, environmental, enforcement and drug patent protection, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s response was favorable.

If new trade deals and ag labor solutions become reality before the end of the year, it would mark the 2019 Washington Conference the most successful ever.

“Let’s get these passed, and then it’s successful,” Guenther said. “If there’s a break, it would be a monumental moment.”

It would be the best sausage the industry has tasted in a long time.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services