Lobbyists for Morocco’s biggest company are targeting farm-state senators in their campaign to stave off threatened tariffs on a key fertilizer ingredient.
Phosphate mining giant OCP launched a massive lobbying and public relations campaign last month after the Mosaic Company, a Tampa-based rival, filed a complaint with the US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission. Mosaic accuses Morocco and Russia of subsidizing their phosphate fertilizer industry through tax breaks and other means, which OCP denies.
Earlier this month OCP lobbyists emailed the offices of Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to invite them to connect with the head of OCP’s US subsidiary and sign on to a letter opposing the threatened tariffs, newly disclosed lobbying filings show. The senators’ offices did not immediately respond to a request about whether they would sign on. Ohio ranks fifth among states with the most farms, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s 2017 census, while Minnesota ranks 10th.
“I’m writing to request an opportunity for OCP NA’s president, Kerry McNamara, to discuss the case and a letter we are hoping Senators will sign supporting the farmers in their states to avoid the higher costs that they are already incurring as a result of the petition,” the emails state. “The preliminary decision is expected on November 23, so we hope to have members weigh in as soon as possible.”
The email to Klobuchar was handled by Cornerstone Government Affairs Principal John Crumbliss. Paul DiNino of DiNino Associates, a Democratic donor who notably raised money for the election campaigns of former farm-state Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), handled outreach to Brown. The two firms are among a total of five that OCP and its US subsidiary have hired since last month.
Morocco also has several domestic US allies in the fight.
The emails to Brown and Klobuchar notably reference an earlier letter from eight Republican senators to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and International Trade Commission (ITC) Chairman Jason Kearns opposing the duties. The letter, which was championed by the Trade Alliance to Promote Prosperity, was sent Aug. 3, before OCP got involved.
Also referenced in the emails is opposing from the American Farm Bureau Federation. On July 21 the agriculture lobby sent a letter to ITC Secretary Lisa Barton warning against the duties.
“In this time of long-term economic stress on U.S. agriculture, production costs are of increased importance to the near and long-term viability of U.S. farms,” Vice President of Public Affairs Paul Schlegel wrote. “Farm Bureau believes that imposing the requested countervailing duties on phosphate fertilizer imports will add to agricultural production costs.”
Mosaic has its own bevvy of lobby firms: Squire Patton Boggs, Ballard Partners, Dawson & Associates and the Washington Tax & Public Policy Group. It also spent $920,000 on in-house lobbying in the first three quarters of 2020, including on its duties case, up from $810,000 for all of 2019.
OCP is the world’s largest exporter of raw phosphate, with 9.9 million tons in 2019. The company told Reuters it could end its US exports, which amounted to $729 million last year, if duties are imposed.
Here is the current state of play of OCP’s influence operations:
Type of work
OCP North America
Registered Oct. 5
Oct. 6, 2020 – March 31, 2021
Covington & Burling
Legal / lobbying
Started Oct. 7
Partner Bruce Wilson
Cornerstone Government Affairs
Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021
Principal and managing director Michael Smith
Principal and director David Adelman
Principal and director Louie Perry
Principal and director Thomas Hunt Shipman
Principal William Cousineau
Principal John Crumbliss
Principal Matthew Hinch
Principal Martin Hubert
Principal Christopher Sarley
Vice President and counsel Alice Gomez
Associate Morgan McCord
Started Nov. 11
President Paul DeNino
Started Aug. 1