Ag sector unites to urge TPP approval

By Bill Tomson

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 11, 2016 - More than 200 farm groups and food companies came together Monday to deliver a letter to congressional leaders, urging approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“The TPP is critical to the livelihood of the U.S. food and agriculture sector because it will create conditions that encourage economic growth and increased employment in rural areas and throughout the supply chain,” the diverse coalition of groups and companies such as the Illinois Soybean Association, the National Potato Council, the Ohio AgriBusiness Association and Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. said in the letter.

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Lawmakers are increasingly torn over supporting the TPP, especially as anti-trade-deal rhetoric grows on the campaign trail from both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. But the potential gains from TPP - and the potential losses from even delaying ratification - are too great not to approve it, the agricultural groups and companies wrote. The letter was addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart Harry Reid. 

Still, Ryan doesn't believe there's enough support now for the TPP, a spokeswoman told Agri-Pulse. The Wisconsin Republican recently told some U.S. business leaders that the chance of Congress passing TPP in a lame duck session is virtually nonexistent. A Hill aide on Friday said that Ryan believes that “at present, the votes aren't there.” 

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week he was aware of the strong opposition to the TPP on Capitol Hill, but said he was working hard to show the benefits of the deal to lawmakers.

The signers of the letter quoted a prediction from the Peterson Institute for International Economics that says delaying TPP for a year could cost U.S. producers $94 billion.

“With net farm income at its lowest level since 2002, the costs of inaction are too high for us to ignore,” the groups and companies wrote. “We must act now.”

The National Pork Producers Council said Monday it believes the 12-country TPP deal could be the “biggest commercial opportunity ever for U.S. pork producers.”

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is equally as committed to getting Congress to approve the TPP.

Japan, a TPP member and the largest market for U.S. beef, has the potential to become even larger once the trade deal is ratified, according to NCBA. But right now U.S. beef is losing that growth opportunity to Australia, which already has a bilateral deal with Japan.

“On April 1, Australian beef producers got a tax break on beef exports to Japan and we paid for it in lost sales,” NCBA President Tracy Brunner said in a statement released Monday. “We know Japanese consumers want U.S. beef, but just like domestic consumers, they make their buying decision based on price and appearance. Until we level the playing field through TPP, U.S. beef is going to be at an economic disadvantage in Japan.”

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Overall, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates the TPP could increase net farm income by $4.4 billion annually.

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture President Greg Ibach joined the chorus of pro-TPP voices Monday, saying, “TPP will open the door to increased farm income for farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers of all sizes and production methods. This is an opportunity which Congress cannot ignore.”

Beyond just reducing tariffs, provisions in the TPP would “foster transparency” on biotech grain approval and prevent lengthy delivery delays when low levels of unwanted biotech traits are detected in shipments, the National Grain and Feed Association said Monday.

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