No deal on TPP agreement, but trade ministers stay confident

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, August 1, 2015 - The twelve countries currently in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement announced late Friday night from Hawaii they had not come to a common resolution on several key issues - namely dairy and sugar - that the ministers said were crucial to striking a final deal.

“We've made significant progress… on resolving a limited number of remaining issues” and are “paving the way for the conclusion of the TPP negotiations,” said United States Trade Representative Michael Froman on behalf of all the trade ministers. However, “(n)othing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” Froman said.

Lets Talk Food

The group of negotiators worked through a long list of issues, Froman continued, including intellectual property rights - specifically geographical indications - but top agricultural issues related to dairy and sugar were still being debated.

New Zealand trade minister Tim Groser said one of the hardest issues to address has been dairy.

“What we have agreed on” in terms of dairy “is commercially meaningful access,” he said. The definition of meaningful access “will come through the negotiation process and that has not quite been achieved through this meeting.”

Groser added he was “extremely confident” that his negotiating partners would be able to come to a “sweet spot” agreement on dairy though. “Dairy is always the last issue to be resolved,” he noted, but its resolution will “advance the interests of efficient dairy exporters around the world.”

Ed Fast, Canada's trade minster whose country has reportedly refused to make concessions on dairy trade barriers because the U.S. continues to protect its sugar producers in the same way, said he had come to Hawaii ready to finalize a deal and would remain at the table “with a sincere desire” to complete negotiations.

Australia's trade minister, Andrew Robb, who has been pushing the U.S. to increase its sugar imports much to the chagrin of U.S. sugar producers said the countries had “made progress on sugar and dairy, but we haven't concluded.”

“To get one set of rules across 40 percent of the world's GDP (and) 30 percent of world trade” is difficult, Robb said, but worth it. “We're all better off as a consequence,” he argued.

In a press release issued shortly after the no-deal announcement, the Sweetener Users Association urged U.S. negotiators “to grant market access for sugar imports from Australia and Canada... needed in our domestic market.” SUA sent a letter to Froman Thursday asking for a more liberalized sugar trade as well.

Other sugar groups like the American Sugar Alliance, which represents both sugarcane and sugar beet producers as well as sugar processors and suppliers, are of a different mind.

ASA's Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis, published an opinion piece Thursday that argued guaranteed market access for foreign sugar producers would shift domestic market share into the hands of competitors, “leading to job loss here (in Hawaii) and on the mainland.” What's more, he said, “a steady climb in foreign subsidies in recent years has created a glut of sugar on the world market and has sent prices spiraling downward.”

The American Sugarbeet Growers Association, which represents many of the U.S. sugarbeet farmers responsible for producing over half of the nation's sugar, also advocates against expanding sugar market access through TPP. The U.S. sugar market is “already saturated” and liberalizing trade could mean growers will face lower prices, ASGA says on their website.

Froman said the countries haven't set a date for the next meeting, but the negotiating countries would continue to work closely “to formalize achievements that have made this week.”

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