Vilsack calls on ag stakeholders to lobby for fast-track trade authority

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, April 5, 2015 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging farmers, ranchers and agribusiness owners to “personally lobby” Congress to quickly pass fast track negotiating authority for President Obama and to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

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“Thirty percent of all agricultural sales in the U.S. are connected in one form another to exports,” Vilsack told business owners on Friday during a forum sponsored by Business Forward. “Exports are critically important to production agriculture… to the rural economy and to the American economy.”

Vilsack said that USDA has contributed to the advancement of U.S. exports in many ways, including through its export credit program that lends between $4 and $5 billion annually to businesses and by helping to remove hundreds of foreign trade barriers.

The next step in expanding market opportunities abroad will be negotiating more free trade agreements, Vilsack argued, starting with TPP, a treaty with 11 other Pacific Rim nations that would build on the successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement and grant U.S. agriculture producers access to an export market worth estimated $123 billion.

For that to happen, however, Vilsack said Congress should first pass the so-called fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would give the president the ability to negotiate a treat that Congress could only vote on up or down, with no amendments or filibuster.

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The TPP talks, Vilsack said, should reduce tariffs on agricultural goods among many U.S. trading partners, which he said reach 200 percent in some cases, opening up “massive markets” to U.S. exports.

In addition, the TPP negotiations are giving the U.S. a chance to write the “rules of the road” regarding labor rights, environmental standards and intellectual property protections, he said, as well as advocating for science- and rule-based trade regulations before other counties, namely China, beat the U.S. to the punch.

Adherence to such science-based regulations may have prevented the recent bans by 11 countries on all U.S. poultry products because of avian flu outbreaks, Vilsack said. The bans should have been restricted to products from the areas where the outbreaks occurred, he said.

“There is serious opposition to trade promotion authority and trade agreements (and) that opposition is organized,” Vilsack said. “We need a correspondingly well-organized and powerful counter message… from small business.”

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