Pork Producers are optimistic on lame duck TPP vote

By Bill Tomson

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2016 - The National Pork Producers Council is confident that Congress will brush away pervasive anti-trade sentiments in this election year and approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a lame duck vote before a new president takes office.

Some lawmakers may not be ready to publicly announce their support for the 12-nation trade pact, but they will be ready to cast a “yes” vote once the Nov. 8 election is over, say NPPC leaders who attribute much of the country's pork revenue to exports.

NPPC members from around the country are in Washington this week and have been lobbying lawmakers hard on their current No. 1 issue - congressional approval of the TPP, a treaty that is expected to help boost sales of pork and other agricultural commodities to countries like Japan and Vietnam.

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“We want a vote and our producers are (on Capitol Hill) asking for a vote in the lame duck,” said Nick Giordano, NPPC vice president and counsel for global government affairs. “And I'll tell you, I think the votes are there.”

Giordano and other top NPPC officials spoke to reporters today at a luncheon briefing on the group's top issues, which include more resources to prepare for a potential outbreak of food and mouth disease.

Despite the anti-TPP rhetoric that has come from the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, there are plenty of lawmakers who understand just how important the trade deal is to the U.S. economy and specifically to agriculture, the officials said.

Lawmakers know that the TPP will help the U.S. sell a lot more pork, beef, wheat and other farm commodities to millions of consumers in Pacific Rim nations by slashing tariffs and removing non-tariff trade barriers, said NPPC President John Weber.

“From the legislative standpoint, they can't ignore it,” Weber said. “They can't ignore the economic impact of what the (TPP) would do for this country's economy in the years to come.”

Giordano said there are plenty of signs that TPP support is gaining steam in Congress. The fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have both said they don't expect a vote in the lame duck doesn't mean it won't happen.

“They're not going to play their hands today,” he said of McConnell and Ryan.

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The American Farm Bureau Federation is also continuing its fight to persuade Congress to approve TPP, and the group's president, Zippy Duvall, told reporters today he was excited to hear that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said this week that TPP would be approved this year. The Hill newspaper quoted Hatch as saying, “I think we're going to get it done in lame-duck.”

"That's a very positive announcement," Duvall said.

Duvall also touted the results of a poll released by AFBF last month that found half of Americans would be more likely to support TPP if they knew it would provide new markets overseas for U.S. farm products.

NPPC's Giordano said the stakes are extremely high because if Congress doesn't pass TPP this year during a very supportive Obama administration, the next president likely will not make it a priority.

“What happens if they don't vote on this in the lame duck?” Giordano asked. “We all know that the candidates for the presidency are both closed to this … The wheels could come off the cart. It could fall apart.”

Giordano waived off speculation that the presidential candidates might not really be against TPP.

“Do you want to roll the dice and say that these people don't really mean what they're saying on the campaign trail?” he said. “It needs to be done now.”

(Steve Davies contributed to this report.)

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