Ag groups trumpet trade at House hearing

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, March 18, 2015 - Legislators and officials from farm groups and agricultural organizations used a House Agriculture Committee hearing to remind each other of a well-known fact - trade can be very good for Ag.

The hearing on the “Importance of Trade to U.S. Agriculture” was held as negotiators continue work on two major trade agreements: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is seen as much closer to completion. Some say that to accomplish either, Congress needs to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would give the president the ability to submit a deal to Congress for an up-or-down, amendment-free vote.

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Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said historically, TPA “has played a critical role” in the success of previous trade agreements. He said the authority has been extended “to every president since 1974, and the 114th Congress should be no exception.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, a witness at the hearing, said sound trade agreements now could pay dividends in the future.

“The U.S. should be planting seeds today for future growth in agricultural trade, and there are seeds that are ready to be planted,” Stallman said, pointing to the treaties being negotiated - the TPP with 11 other Pacific Rim nations and the T-TIP with the European Union.

Stallman said the U.S. is in danger of being left out in the cold on trade discussions without the passage of TPA. Without assurance provided by TPA, other countries could be worried about the fate of a carefully orchestrated agreement before a volatile and unpredictable Congress.

“Not having TPA is going to cause the U.S. to be left out of trade negotiations to a great extent,” Stallman said. “We may engage in trade negotiations, but completing successful negotiations will be extremely difficult - if not impossible - without having TPA because the other countries are going to believe we're not serious about a trade agenda.”

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In a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, said he recently talked with President Barack Obama about the importance of TPA. Hatch has been in negotiations with committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about details for a TPA bill, which Hatch wants by mid-April. Hatch claims Wyden's demands - including procedural language that would make it more difficult to bring the treaty to a vote - have been complicating the process. Hatch called on Obama to work with members of his party to get approval for TPA.

“Our goal should not be to pass just any TPA bill. Our goal should be to pass the strongest bill possible. That is the only way to ensure we get the best possible deal out of our trade negotiations, which is, in the end, the purpose of TPA,” Hatch said. “We do not need new, untested changes to established TPA procedures that can hamper the process and make it harder both for our negotiators to reach a good deal and for Congress to be able to vote an agreement up or down.”


Stallman was joined at the hearing by National Pork Producers Council President Howard Hill; Pete Kappelman, chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation's International Trade Committee; and Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. All four were supportive of TPA and noted that the trade agreements could be very good for U.S. agriculture. Still, they said they wanted to review any deal before giving their approval.

Each witness had something different to say about possible provisions that would benefit their organizations, but Kappelman had specific goals for desires for dairy provisions with Canada. He said provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) exempted dairy from that treaty, allowing Canada to block U.S. exports. He said milk producers simply couldn't support another agreement under those same terms.

“Canada is obviously a prime market for us; they're right there,” Kappelman said of the U.S.' neighbor to the north. “The dairy segment escaped the first time in NAFTA and we have to make sure that with TPP, that doesn't happen again.”

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., House Agriculture Committee ranking member, said conversations with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman haven't yielded all the answers he wants, so he's waiting to make up his mind on upcoming trade policy decisions.

“We understand it's important, but with regards to (TPA) and TPP, I've been visiting with Ambassador Froman for a considerable amount of time, over some issues and I'm not totally to the point where I've gotten all the answers I would need, so I'm kind of waiting to see where I'm going to end up on that,” Peterson said in his opening statement. “What I'm concerned about is that we don't cause problems in this agreement like we did with NAFTA.”

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