TPP is signed, but ag leaders are skeptical of passage this year

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2016 - Trade ministers have officially signed off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that doesn't look to be speeding up congressional approval in the United States.

The officials from 12 Pacific Rim countries gathered in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday (Wednesday in the U.S.) to sign the final text of the TPP, signaling the official end of the deal's negotiations. Attention will now shift to gaining approval for the agreement in all member countries, something that might not happen until 2017 in the United States.

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Two congressional ag leaders told the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture on Wednesday that TPP approval is unlikely this year, and one is skeptical that the agreement will even pass at all. Collin Peterson, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he is working his way through the massive agreement.

“From what I can tell, it's not really a free trade agreement,” the Minnesota Democrat said, likening it to more of “a managed trade agreement where they have increased access in certain commodities and in certain countries. They're not really getting rid of the tariffs, they're just eliminating them on a certain amount of product and so forth.”

Peterson did acknowledge some phasing out of tariffs happens over time, but still, he said, getting the agreement passed would be “an uphill battle.” He added that the current climate for TPP in the House is not a good one for those hoping for passage.

“From what I'm hearing, if they brought up that agreement now in the House, it would fail,” Peterson said. “So I think they've rightly decided that they're going to wait until after the election and see what happens at that point.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, was also skeptical of the TPP's prospects, telling the nation's ag commissioners and secretaries that TPP approval “ain't going to happen this year.”

“I just don't see it happening in this session of Congress,” Roberts told reporters Wednesday. “Time is our most valuable commodity, and we don't have a lot of time, so we better concentrate on what we have to do.”

Roberts said the presidential race “casts a big shadow over everything,” including the debate over TPP. To help push the trade agreement over the finish line, Roberts called for greater involvement from the current resident of the White House.

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“Any trade bill that's going to pass Congress, the president has to be involved,” he said. “I know the president is involved, but then again he doesn't come to the Congress much and say ‘we really have to pass this' and sit down with the principals with regard to what he needs in terms of votes.”

At the signing in New Zealand, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said he was “confident” that the leaders and members of Congress would “see the benefits” of the agreement and that TPP would have “the necessary bipartisan support” for final passage.

Agriculture is - for the most part - throwing its collective weight behind the agreement and its speedy approval. The chief exception has been the National Farmers Union. NFU President Roger Johnson said in a release Wednesday that the agreement is “destined to fail.” Many agricultural organizations however, echo the sentiments of National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling, who said in a release Wednesday that the agreement “would give America's farmers and ranchers greater access to some of the world's fastest-growing economies.”

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