President highlights priorities in state of the union, but path forward not clear

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Jay Sjerven

President Donald Trump’s address to Congress on the state of the union on Jan. 30 touched on several of the administration’s major policy themes, including fair trade, immigration reform and infrastructure repair, but offered few new insights on how the priorities will be realized or implemented in law.

Those looking for a moderation or any adjustment in the administration’s approach to trade, in specific, its stance in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, found none in the address.

“America has finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our nation’s wealth,” Mr. Trump said. “The era of economic surrender is over. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”

NAFTA was not mentioned, nor were any other agreements, this despite the conclusion of the sixth round of NAFTA renegotiation in Montreal just a week before the president’s address.

President Donald Trump
Trump addresses trade, immigration reform and infrastructure.

Mr. Trump pointed to his administration’s “four-pillar” proposal for immigration reform.

First, Mr. Trump outlined a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought as children to the United States by their parents who entered the country illegally. Mr. Trump said those who meet education and work requirements and show good moral character will be able to become full citizens of the United States (over 12 years).

Second, the administration will seek to fully secure the border, which would require building a wall on the border with Mexico and hiring more immigration control officers, the president said.

Third, Mr. Trump said his plan would end a lottery that “randomly hands out” green cards without regard for skill, merit or safety of the American people.

And fourth, the plan would significantly narrow what the president has called “chain migration,” allowing immigrants to sponsor the immigration to the United States of only their spouses and minor children.

The immigration plan doesn’t address issues related to farm labor, which played a key role in previous attempts to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, Mr. Trump lamented that current immigration policies “have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans.”

The priority placed by the president on rebuilding and expanding the nation’s infrastructure was welcomed, but details on how this might be legislated were few.

“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need,” Mr. Trump said. “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit…Together we can claim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways and waterways across our land.”

Chandler Goule, chief executive officer of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said, “While the president addressed many issues of importance to the American people, it was unfortunate that he did not focus more of his remarks on agriculture. Much like a strong infrastructure plan, agriculture is also essential for helping rural America move forward.”

Mr. Goule noted the president called on Congress to end sequestration on defense.

“Sequestration has had significant effects on domestic programs, including farm bill programs, negatively impacting farmers,” Mr. Goule said. “Removal of sequestration shouldn’t be limited to defense programs.”

With regard to the president’s comments on trade, Mr. Goule said, “As we consider our place in the world stage, let’s make sure that we preserve smart trade deals that keep American wheat producers in a strong position. This includes remaining in NAFTA and moving ahead with bi-lateral trade agreements.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, lauded recently enacted tax reductions that he said benefit farmers and ranchers and the administration’s easing of regulatory burdens on producers.

Mr. Duvall said as the president reframes trade agreements as fair and reciprocal, “he goes in with the understanding that we need a trade agenda that secures greater access to ag export markets. That’s important as our farmers prepare to plant their crops for 2018.”

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