Monday, July 12, 2021

Biden includes right-to-repair, other rural-interest topics in pro-competition order; net neutrality awaits filled-out FCC

President Biden signed an executive order Friday meant to increase business competition and blunt the power of big businesses. It addresses right-to-repair laws, long a goal of farmers, and a host of other issues with rural resonance. In fact, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for a fifth of the order's 72 action points, Chuck Abbott reports for Food & Environment Reporting Network.

"The order looks to build off of an Obama-era executive order which encouraged agencies to consider competition impacts in their decisions," Ximena Bustillo reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. "But that order was not closely followed and was later overturned by Trump appointees."

Writing in The Constituent, economist Matt Young says "Biden gave what I believe to be the most important speech by any president at least in my lifetime, and perhaps for decades longer. . . . Economic theory doesn’t work without competitive markets. . . . Free markets and competitive markets are not the same thing, and making this mistake has caused a lot of economic harm in the United States."

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department "unveiled new funding and regulations to reduce concentration in the meat sector," Bustillo reports. "USDA will offer $500 million in grants, loans, and other assistance to help new meat and poultry processors enter the market, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in Iowa on Friday. The department will also move forward with a series of regulations to protect farmers and ranchers who work with large agribusinesses. USDA is also moving to enhance its enforcement of the century-old Packers and Stockyards Act, which monitors anti-competitive practices in the meat and poultry sector; increase whistleblower protections; and tighten the rules for poultry grower tournament systems — a payment system where farmers are ranked against each other."

The order also calls for bringing back "net neutrality rules" repealed during the Trump administration. However, that is opposed by cable companies and is "unlikely to make headway until the Federal Communications Commission, which would carry out the proposed regulations," is filled out with a fifth member, is fully staffed, reports Drew Fitzgerald of The Wall Street Journal.

Here are some other key areas addressed in the order, from a WSJ list:
  • Occupational licensing requirements that often curb workers' geographic mobility. In rural areas, this is of especial interest to military spouses since many can't get jobs in their chosen field when they move to a base in another state.
  • The order seeks to lower prescription drug prices and increase the use of generic drugs.
  • The order encourages the Federal Maritime Commission to increase enforcement against ocean carriers levying excessive charges. That would help farmers that depend on export markets.

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