By Sen. John Thune
Honey production is an important part of South Dakota’s agriculture economy. In fact, we’re consistently one of the top honey-producing states in the country. While that’s a badge of honor many South Dakotans wear proudly, and rightly so, the United States produces less than half the amount of honey it consumes, which means there’s a lucrative market for foreign competitors to export their product to the United States.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the unfair practice of circumventing our trade laws, conducted primarily by Chinese honey producers trying to cheat the market, a process also known as “honey laundering.” In 2011, Richard Adee, a well-known honey producer from Bruce, South Dakota, testified before a congressional panel I led about the negative economic effects honey laundering has had on domestic producers and family-run businesses. Thanks to producers like Richard who told their story and kept pressure on lawmakers in Washington, the United States is cracking down on these unethical practices and the importers who knowingly break the law. After all, free trade is only fair trade when our trading partners all play by the same set of rules.
These provisions to combat honey laundering, along with several others I authored aimed at providing relief to consumers, assistance to small businesses, and incentives to innovators, were recently signed into law as part of a larger trade enforcement bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. It passed the Senate in early February by a vote of 75-20.
Also included in this trade enforcement bill is an important provision to make it easier for small businesses to import components they need to create products sold in traditional brick and mortar stores or online venues like eBay and Etsy. Unfortunately, when the ability of American entrepreneurs to send and receive necessary components or products becomes encumbered by unnecessary costs and red tape, it makes it more difficult for their business to grow. With that in mind, my provision significantly increases the threshold for certain duty-free imports, which reduces complexity and a heavy paperwork burden and gives these small businesses one less thing to worry about.
Finally, in a victory for both consumers and businesses, accessing the Internet will no longer be a taxable event. This is good news for families and small businesses who currently pay an access tax on their monthly cable or phone bill. A permanent ban on Internet access taxes – an effort I’ve championed for years – gives our entrepreneurs and innovators a greater incentive to not only continue working toward the next generation of connectivity in America, but the next big thing yet to be invented. I was also glad to see a provision I fought hard to include that gives states that currently tax Internet access four years to prepare for this transition.
Amid all the seemingly bad news that comes out Washington, D.C., in instances like this, it’s nice to share some good news. We’re starting 2016 off on the right foot, and I hope we’ll be able to score more victories like these for South Dakotans over the course of the year.