As Biden emerges as likely election winner, seafood industry prepares for potential changes

Published on
November 6, 2020

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is increasingly poised to win the presidency with several key battleground states tilting his way in the Electoral College on Friday, 6 November. 

In response to Biden taking the lead in the presidential contest, and a high likelihood that Republicans have retained the majority in the U.S. Senate while Democrats retained control of the U.S. House,  the seafood industry – and its advocates – are preparing to work with new leadership in Washington D.C.

A key issue for the seafood industry has been the country’s trade relationships with foreign countries, particularly China. The trade war instigated in 2018 by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump had a significant impact on the industry, with some seafood species seeing massive drops in exports to China.

Biden’s victory is sure to have some impact on trade policy, although for now what that impact will be is unclear. He has said in the past that he plans to focus on domestic investments before tackling trade issues, but what that ends up looking like is still unknown.

“There is a tension between Vice President Biden’s overall mission on trade with respect to China and trade generally,” National Fisheries Institute Vice President of Government Affairs Robert DeHaan said.

Biden has also mentioned that he plans to pass some form of infrastructure bill as president, with a focus on clean energy. Rich Gold, the leader of Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation group, predicted the size and scope of the future bill will depend on the composition of the Senate, which is yet to be determined as the results of a few close contests remain too close to call, and other match-ups are headed for run-offs.

“[Democrats] will fashion this as a clean energy infrastructure bill,” he said. “If the Senate remains Republican, their ability to go too far to the left on that bill would be limited.”

Whether or not the Senate will remain Republican remains to be seen. So far the Democratic party has gained one seat, but both races in Georgia appear likely to go to a runoff on 5 January. If that happens, which party gains final control of the Senate could depend on the results of those races.   

“Divided government will make it difficult to move legislation,” DeHaan said.

The “lame duck” session between November and January may see some movement on the Senate side, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likely poised to make a new COVID-19 relief bill. That, according to Gold, could be related to future elections.

“He’s got 23 Republicans up for reelection in 2022,” Gold said. “We might see to that sentiment leading to an economic relief package passing in the lame-duck period.”

One of the first things that Congress will do in the lame-duck session, according to Gold, is likely a new spending bill.

“The fiscal year started on 1 October, but Congress passed a continuing resolution that goes through 11 December,” he said. “What we’re expecting is that Congress is likely to get a deal on 2021 spending bills, and will likely do so before the deadline.”

The seafood industry will retain some long-time friends of the industry, such as U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D- New Hampshire), who both won their reelection bids.

At the House committee level – where many policy decisions originate – DeHaan said he anticipates little change.

“We don’t see the likelihood that there will be a lot of movement in these new committees,” he said. “What we have is a very, very set leadership, but a very fluid agenda.”

There may be potential for a change of chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the more powerful committees in Congress, according to DeHaan, where current Chair Nita Lowey wields the so-called power of the purse.

“As the head of the appropriations committee, she can drive a lot of policy changes through the spending process,” DeHaan said. 

DeHaan predicted the political scene in Washington will remain a tricky one to navigate, given the failure of the 2020 election to provide a mandate to any specific political agenda.

“This election would not give anyone a particular hope that the dysfunction of how the appropriations process works will be resolved,” DeHaan said. “The dysfunction in the spending process is good when it’s good for us and it’s bad when it’s bad for us.” 

Photo courtesy of Matt Smith Photographer/Shutterstock

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