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United States Rep. Dusty Johnson lofts a sign stating his support during a rally, shown in a press release Sept. 13, 2019, in South Dakota.

South Dakota U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson, originally from Pierre, hosted a teleconference call Wednesday, Jan. 15, in the afternoon to speak about a few things.

First on his list was the Tribal School Parity Bill which allows for all tribal school employees to get federal benefits.

“Right now there are three different types of tribal schools, and two of those three types of tribal schools are eligible for federal employee benefits,” Johnson said. “A third type of tribal school, their employees are not eligible for federal employee benefits. That disparity’s never made any sense.”

Because it is being dealt with at a governmental level, as opposed to state, Johnson feels it is slower going than he might like.

“It’s been hard to get it addressed because it’s more of a niche issue,” Johnson said. “We’ve put some time into this and we’re getting momentum on fixing this, and that’s going to mean good things for Indian students in Tribal America. These are dollars, that instead of being spent on health insurance, can be spent on student outcomes.

The schools will still have an expense for health insurance. It will just be a lower cost product than it was before, Johnson said.

Next, Johnson was excited to share the news for South Dakota on the new “phase one” of the U.S.-China trade agreement. Johnson, Governor Kristi Noem and Senator Mike Rounds all attended the signing of the agreement in Washington, D.C., Jan. 15.

The agreement signed by President Trump requires structural reforms to China’s economic and trade regime in the areas of agriculture, financial services, intellectual property, technology transfer, and currency and foreign exchange, a press release from Noem’s office said.

“Big news today of the day is the “phase one” China deal,” Johnson said. “This is a better agreement than I expected, particularly on the structural side. There are some important structural changes in this agreement. Most notably, I think for South Dakota, is related to technology transfer.”

Johnson feels the restrictions China has for companies wanting to pursue processing there are one of the biggest hurdles his constituents in South Dakota face.

“Right now China requires - if anybody is going to bring in any kind of manufacturing or process for agriculture manufacturing or process into that country - that those American firms need to turn over their technology,” Johnson said. “This agreement says that China will stop doing that. That is a major concession.”

Along with the good news about no longer relinquishing technologies, China will also agree to purchase $200 billion of American goods over the next two years, he said.

“There’s a substantial step-up on agriculture purchases, and those agriculture purchase have already begun,” Johnson said. “In fact, U.S. pork exports were up 284 percent from a year ago, and we just had the best month on record in November. That’s China demand coming home to roost, and we expect to continue to see upward pressure on price.”

South Dakota producers aren’t looking for a silver bullet to save them and to solve their issues, Johnson said. He thinks they just want an opportunity to make a living, and the China deal allows for market access giving them the best opportunity to succeed, he said.

“I applaud the administration for its hard work in negotiating a deal that includes U.S. agriculture purchase commitments by China,” said Craig Andersen in a press release from Noem’s office. Andersen is a South Dakota pork producer and board member of the National Pork Producers Council. “It’s no secret China is facing a pork shortage, and we urge China to support the purchase commitments it has made through this agreement.”

The last time Johnson said he checked, he saw corn at $3.85 and beans around $9 at the processor, he said. He feels those are prices that have come back in range where well-run producers can make a living, provided the weather cooperates.

“With China, you don’t want to assume just because you have an agreement, the work is done,” Johnson said. “China is notorious for not holding up their end of the bargain. I think compliance and enforcement are going to be more important with this trade agreement than any other trade agreement in the history of our country.”

Noem, Johnson and Rounds shared the same sentiment - the deal is good for South Dakota.

“The agreement President Trump locked in today is an incredible economic victory for South Dakota producers,” Noem said in a press release. “This historic deal opens up new markets and advances opportunities for farmers and ranchers to do what they do best: feed the world.”

Johnson feels good about the future for South Dakota and his second year coming up.

“I would note, we feel good about the course of the year, the legislative success we’ve had,” Johnson said. “I think a lot of people assumed that as a freshman and a minority, you can’t get anything done. We have had a couple of bills related to tribal issues pass out of committee. We have had a couple of stand-alone bills that we have introduced pass into law, as they’ve been rolled into larger pieces of legislation. So we feel good about where we are a,t and we are going to continue to do that into 2020, obviously.”

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