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Tester talks ports of entry and hemp in Montana


Jon Tester

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Tuesday during his monthly rural conference call that for the second time in four years Customs and Border Protection has proposed reducing hours for the Port of Raymond.

"We need this administration to show greater transparency and greater accountability on decisions of this magnitude," Tester said. "In Washington, D.C., some folks don't understand that reducing hours at these ports is going to force farmers, ranchers and truckers, folks of all walks of life, to drive many more hours to sell or buy good in the United States and or in Canada."

The Port of Raymond is one of three 24 hour ports in Montana, he said.

The other 24-hour ports are at Sweetgrass north of Shelby and Roosville north of Eureka.

In 2015, CBP proposed cutting the hours at Raymond. After a year of opposition, including from Tester, it reversed its decision in December 2016.

Tester said that early in April, Customs and Border protection held town hall meetings with the public where representatives from his office and community members relayed the message that the port means a lot to local economy.

CBP reduced the hours at Raymond effective April 14 with reduced hours at three other ports pending.

After the town hall meetings Tester sat down face-to-face with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner and Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan and he restored Raymond to having 24 hour service reinstated for 30 days.

"That means the fight is not over," Tester said.

Town hall meetings will be held at the Glasgow Senior Citizens Center May 3 at 5 p.m .; Great Northern Hotel Conference Room in Malta May 4 at 2 p.m .; Richardson Theater in North Scobey May 6 at 5 p.m., and Sheridan County Civic Center in Plentywood May 7 at 5 p.m.

The problem with the public meetings in the past was that the Customs and Border Protection cut people off and didn't listen to what the people had to say, Tester said. He added that the purpose of these meetings was to gathering public input and not stonewall peoples' opinions. Tester said that they would have been more successful if they listen to what the people.

"That's not the Montana way," Tester said. "You've got to be able to listen and hear people out and make sure that their information is valued."

He added that President Donald Trump's administration also is planning cut hours for ports of entry in Scobey, Morgan and Opheim which will hurt the agricultural economy.

"Whenever folks have a say, the government works better," he said.

Montanans rely on trading with Canada, for buyers and sellers, with the ports of entry playing critical role in the future of Montana's economy, he said, such as importing hemp seeds from Canada.

Industrial hemp can be a strong, successful, rotational crop for grain growers in the state, Tester said. He added that he has worked to removed hemp from Drug Enforcement Agency's list of prohibited substances and the 2018 Farm Bill made it easier than ever to grow hemp. Tester described hemp as an "emerging cash crop."

He added that although it hemp may not be as big of a market as grain or pulse crops it would be good for producers to get in rotation as well as it being beneficial to the soil.

United States Department of Agriculture dragged its feet and failed to approve Montana's 2019 hemp program in time for farmers to purchase seeds and plant them, he said.

He said that he has worked with with both the USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and leadership in the Customs and Border Protection face-to-face to get farmers the green light to purchase hemp seeds in time to plant them this year.

"These face-to-face meetings are important," Tester said, "whether it's a public town hall or holding government agency secretaries accountable to our great state. Eyeball-to-eye ball meetings are the best way to get this done."

He added that in order for hemp to be successful, the state is going to need an investment of hemp processing facilities. Growers can plant hemp, and learn how to harvest the crop, but without processing facilities there is no market value yet.

At the conference call, Tester also talked about illegal drug and child trafficking in the state. He said this is a major issue on both the southern and northern borders, adding that they tend to get increased traffic in poverty-stricken areas, such as Native American reservations.

"Law enforcement is critically important," he said. "... Make no mistake about it, trafficking has been a problem for a good portion of years. I think that there are more people talking about it now, including myself, and I think that's going to help getting more resources on the ground."

Tester said another issue the country is facing is the problems with national trade agreements. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement needs to be fair, but is critically important that the country maintains trade with Mexico, Canada and the Pacific Rim.

"If we don't have trade, specifically foreign trade, we're in trouble," he said.

The Trump Administration's pulling out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was a mistake, Tester said, and empowered the country's biggest competitor economically, China.

Tester said that decision is part of what caused the trade wars and tariffs which are affecting Montana's grain prices. Montana ships out an incredible amount of product to domestic and foreign markets, he said, adding that the tariffs are putting many producers at risk.

"There are going to be a lot of people going broke if this doesn't change," he said.

He said that he is watching the progress of the United States–Mexico–Canada agreement and once it is finalized he will be most likely going to support it.

Tester said that the agreement should be taken up in June and he don't know how it's going to be implemented. He added that knowing how the agreement is going to be implemented is critical, because and that's what is really going to affect the market. He said that he or anyone else in Congress currently knows that status of this agreement.

"I intend to support it but I want to see it," he said.


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