In June, industry executives were invited to the signing of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act at the White House where Cathy Burns, CEO of International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) met with President Joe Biden. Here Burns elaborates on that meeting.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your meeting with President Joe Biden. For instance, what was your role there that day?
IFPA was invited to the signing because of the advocacy efforts of our members and staff team to get the bill passed by the U.S. Congress. Given the volume of fresh produce that arrives in and departs from U.S. ports via ocean containers, supporting the passage of the OSRA was a key part of our larger supply chain policy work. Specifically, the OSRA provides relief for our nation’s ports and empowers the Federal Maritime Commission to broadly regulate shipping that our industry relies on for the timely delivery of perishable goods.
We were joined at the White House by the CEOs of other agricultural organizations who had also lobbied for passage of the bill, along with representatives from other affected industries and members of Congress and the Cabinet. The bill signing, which was a celebratory moment, gave us a forum to reconnect with these colleagues, as well as the unexpected opportunity to meet President Biden.
Q: How long has this been an issue the IFPA has been working on? And how soon were you hearing about support from the Biden administration on the issue?
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) first proposed the bill in February and it passed the Commerce committee on March 22. On March 15, IFPA created and submitted a letter to Senate Majority and Minority leaders to urge the passage of the bill, with support from dozens of industry trade associations and commodity boards. In addition to IFPA providing consistent updates to the industry and urging Congress to pass the bill, this was a key topic for IFPA members when they marched on the Hill during our Spring Policy & Regulatory Forum in May. While we’re grateful for the invitation to the White House to witness the signing of this bill, successful advocacy is an investment of time and energy in staying connected as the bill moves through Congress.
President Joe Biden and IFPA's Cathy Burns.
Q: What are you hearing from your members following your meeting with President Biden?
We work closely with our membership to align advocacy priorities and goals. Industry volunteers shared in this work by discussing this with a variety of representatives on the Hill. Fellow industry leadership and trade groups shared in supporting this bill by signing onto the letter we sent to Congress. We’re happy to see the work of so many culminate in the passage of the bill and it was an honor to witness the signing.
Q: How often are you meeting/have you met with the President in this administration to discuss issues related to IFPA?
While this was our first time meeting the President, as part of our priority policy work (priority issues include nutrition, supply chain, workforce, organic and food safety policy), IFPA’s government relations and food safety teams frequently meet with members of Congress and regulatory agencies to ensure our industry’s voice is heard and its need understood in policy and regulatory discussions.
Q: Are there issues you’re hoping to meet with him again in the near future about or were you able to discuss other issues during your visit?
Meeting President Biden was a surprise, but it did give me a brief opportunity to share IFPA’s other priority issues, such as nutrition, immigration, food safety and organics. Especially with regard to nutrition and the upcoming White House Conference on Health, Nutrition and Hunger this September, I made a point to let the President know that we have an urgent need to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and we are here to support the Administration’s work that can create meaningful policy and programs to support that goal.
Q: Following this signing of the act, where do you think things will move from here on this particular issue?
While the bill is signed, the work has just begun. What’s coming up next is the regulatory side of the process, as the Federal Maritime Commission will begin drafting proposed regulations to bring the law into commerce. Along the way, IFPA will provide formal comments, including insights and perspectives from our volunteer leaders and members to the FMC to inform the agency creating a final rule that meets the needs of our industry.