Lawmakers press for farm benefits in Pacific trade deal

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2015 - Lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to ensure that a final Trans-Pacific Partnership adequately opens markets for diary and rice while protecting U.S. sugar growers. 

Those commodities have been one of the remaining key market access issues to be settled in the 12-nation negotiations this week in Atlanta. The last round of the talks were due to end Thursday, but the negotiations have been extended into the weekend. 

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and 15 other members of his committee said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Thursday that they were “deeply concerned over the lack of meaningful market access in key markets for America's rice farmers, and we are also deeply concerned by the lack of movement and transparency with respect to meaningful new, balanced market access for our nation's dairy farmers.” The letter also warned against "undermining U.S. sugar policy."

Lets Talk Food

Leaders of the House and Senate committees that oversee trade policy also have been pressing Froman to ensure that the agreement adequately addresses U.S. industry concerns, even if that means taking more time. 

“What's essential here is getting a good agreement, not just any agreement fast,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters.

 Wyden, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and their counterparts on the House Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sandy Levin, D-Mich., wrote Froman expressing “deep concern” over unspecified “significant" issues that were yet to be resolved in the talks as of Wednesday.

 “Moreover, how these issues are resolved must be determined in close and effective coordination with stakeholders and with members of Congress to achieve an acceptable outcome in these negotiations,” the lawmakers wrote. 

They added that they would support extending the negotiations if Froman can't obtain an acceptable deal. “We urge you to take the time necessary to get the best deal possible for the United States, working close with us and with stakeholders to resolve the many outstanding issues in these critically important negotiations." 

There were signs of movement from Canada on the dairy issue. According to a Reuters report, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said that his country's supply management system was “on the table” in the talks and that both farmers and processors would be compensated by the government for any losses they incur as the result of a TPP deal. 

Ritz made the remark in a debate ahead of Canada's federal election later this month. 

Australia, meanwhile, has been pushing to increase sugar imports into the U.S.. Forty-five House members sent a letter to Froman urging him to agree to “significantly improved market access” for sugar.  

Wyden said he discussed the negotiations with Froman Wednesday night but declined to provide any details. 

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