Senate in no hurry to give Bush trade authority
The House may have voted to give President Bush greater authority to negotiate trade agreements but Senate leaders say they are in no hurry to follow suit.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Friday he does not expect action on the bill until some time in 2002 even though Bush and the measure's supporters -- including many agricultural interest groups -- insist the issue ought to be a priority.
The measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority, would allow a U.S. president to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, without giving Congress the ability to amend those deals.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said hearings to review the measure could be held this week.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said approval is needed soon if the United States is to finalize trade agreements with Chile and Singapore early next year.
Supporters of the change say many foreign governments are refusing to do business with the United States because they fear any deals they reach will be altered by Congress.
Critics say it is not appropriate to place so much power in one person and defend the current set up as being part of the set of checks and balances outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The measure was passed last week by the House with only one vote to spare. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he would hope the Democrat-led Senate would not vote down the measure.
"If we vote down this legislation, we send a terrible signal to the rest of the world," he said. "We say to the world that the Congress will not trust the president to lead them on trade (and) ... that Congress is not interested in promoting trade."
Granting such authority to the U.S. president is not unprecedented.
But the measure granting such powers to the president lapsed in 1994 and Congress never got around to extending the measure to allow Bill Clinton to have such power throughout his two terms in office.
Agriculture-related groups, some of which led intensive lobbying efforts to persuade House members to vote for the bill, say farmers benefit from having more foreign trade agreements in place.
"To succeed in the world export market, we need solid trade credibility and strong tools that give us the ability to reduce trade barriers, open new markets and eliminate tariffs," National Corn Growers Association President Tim Hume said.
Texans to study bio-terrorism
Officials with Texas A&M University are creating a new institute devoted to the concept of addressing issues of agricultural bio-terrorism.
The university's Board of Regents voted Friday to create the Institute for Countermeasures against Agricultural Bioterrorism. Agriculture and life sciences Dean Ed Hiler said the issue is "of utmost importance to Texas and the entire United States."
The Agriculture Department already has approved $400,000 in funding during 2002 to the university to help the institute get started.
Creation of an institute to address issues of deliberate tampering with food, water and agriculture is a larger step than any other university in the United States has taken. Other universities, including Iowa State University, are conducting studies of the issue within existing programs.
Retail grocery prices drop
Prices paid by people for groceries have fallen during the latter part of this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The group's latest marketbasket survey showed an 18-cent drop on the average total cost of 16 basic grocery items, compared to this year's third quarter.
The $35.52 average paid for the items marked the eighth time a decrease occurred during the final three months of the year, since the survey began in 1989. Last year's fourth quarter saw a 12-cent drop.
Of the 16 items surveyed, 10 dropped in price, while five increased. One -- a gallon of milk -- remained the same.
Activists want halt to insect release
The Center for Food Safety and the International Center for Technology Assessment filed a petition asking the Health and Human Services Department to stop the proposed release of genetically modified mosquitoes and other arthropods that could cause human diseases.
The groups say the federal government should close regulatory loopholes and correct agency weaknesses that show a poor approach to dealing with the emerging technology.
The petition contends the federal health agency refrained from regulating the deliberate release of arthropods because of the mistaken belief the Agriculture Department's animal and plant health inspection service would take such actions.
"The federal government has failed the public by ducking responsibility in this area," said Peter Jenkins of the Center for Food Safety.
West now largest producer of electricity from wind farms
Texas and the Oregon/Washington border are the nation's two largest producers of electricity from wind farms.
It took less than a year for FPL Energy of Florida to request permits and build the nation's two largest wind-generating facilities in those regions.
The Midwest, which once had windmills on almost every farm to operate mechanical pumps to bring up water for livestock in the fields, has been lagging in the use of the wind generators for electricity.
Proposals for development of such projects have encountered objections to the noise they produce and to the fact that they sometimes kill birds. European nations have employed this "clean" source of energy for several years. Wind farms now produce only about 1 percent of the total power generated in the U.S.
(by E.W. Kieckhefer)
Grains up on CBOT
Grains futures were higher at the close Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.
Soybean futures made modest gains but the market was unable to break through support for the January contract.
Corn was up on speculative short covering and reports of an overnight sale of 178,816 tons of U.S.-grown corn to unknown destinations.
Wheat rose on spillover from soybeans and corn and talk of dry conditions in parts of the U.S. winter wheat belt.
Oats fell on technical weaknesses and a lack of buying interest by traders.
Soybeans: Jan 4.45 1/4 up 3 3/4, Mar 4.48 1/4 up 4, May 4.51 1/4 up 3, Jul 4.56 up 2 3/4.
Corn: Dec 2.08 1/4 up 2 3/4, Mar 2.19 up 2 1/2, May 2.125 1/2 up 2 1/4, Jul 2.31 up 2 1/4.
Wheat: Dec 2.75 1/2 up 2 1/2, Mar 2.84 up 2 1/4, May 2.86 1/2 up 2 1/4, Jul 2.86 3/4 up 1/4.
Oats: Dec 2.34 3/4 up 7 1/2, Mar 1.96 off 7 1/4, May 1.82 1/4 off 8 3/4, Jul 1.67 1/2 off 5 3/4.