WASHINGTON, April 24, 2013 – Senior members of the Senate Finance Committee signaled today that they want the administration to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that expands market access for U.S. agricultural exports and protects patents and other intellectual property for such products as medicine and agricultural biotechnology traits.

Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., also said he wants to renew Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance and set a target to introduce a bipartisan bill by June. “Fast track authority will help us conclude the TPP negotiations, and that will bring concrete benefits for American ranchers, farmers, businesses and workers,” he said in an opening statement.

Both Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee’s ranking minority member, said the agreement needed to impose discipline on state trading enterprises and “quasi-monopoly” exporters such as New Zealand’s Fonterra dairy cooperative. Baucus also identified stronger rules against unscientific barriers to U.S. farm exports and intellectual property protection and enforcement as priorities for U.S. negotiators to seek in an agreement.

Hatch expressed uncertainty about the Obama Administration’s commitment to an agreement “that does not lock in 18th century mercantilism.” He said that other countries oppose the U.S. insistence on tying labor and environmental standards to dispute settlement. “These are issues marginally related to trade,” he said, “but the administration seems to give them a higher priority than protection of intellectual property. He added, “The administration seems to be more concerned with placating left-wing interest groups than protecting innovators and job creators.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who also chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a former Finance chairman, also encouraged negotiations to limit the reach of New Zealand’s dairy exporter. It is “a huge problem here,” she said, and negotiators must “overcome what is a huge home field advantage for New Zealand.”

Grassley expressed concern about “a fair amount of words coming out of Japan that dairy is one of their sanctuary products. We expect that dairy and everything else is included. As with Canada, we are hopeful and confident that we will seek full and open access.”

The U.S. dairy industry strongly supports the negotiations, particularly with the recent addition of Japan to the 11 other countries participating in the agreement, U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Suber told the hearing. “But it is important to recognize that, if the administration brings back an unfavorable result, the dairy industry will have no choice but to oppose it.”

However, he said, “Today we are pleased that the pieces are in place that this agreement, properly negotiated, will provide benefits across the dairy industry.” Suber told Hatch that he was “gratified by the interest hat both USDA and USTR have taken” in combating the protective “geographical indications” rule such as that imposed by the European Union for several common and generic names of cheese and other foods. “It has denied us access. It is a barrier. We do think they [the U.S. negotiators] are addressing this in the proper way.”

Suber also called for agreement to limit sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) non tariff barriers. The TPP should build on the existing World Trade Organization SPS agreement with “strong enforcement, timely adjudication of issues and binding results,” he said.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., expressed “a high degree of skepticism” about the likelihood of completing a successful agreement. “I have even more skepticism when it comes to Japan, with the enormous challenge of breaking into the auto market in that country,” he said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., asked Suber if a strong SPS agreement would threaten U.S. food safety rules. “We can defend our regulations based on science,” Suber said. “Ultimately, it should be about making sure food is safe and that the best science is used to determine that. The enforcement mechanism is fundamental [or else] it becomes an unending chain of consultation.”

Montana Farm Bureau President Bob Hanson raised concern about proposed “safe harbor” language designed to shield U.S. tobacco regulation from a challenge under SPS rules. “We support strengthening the rules for international trade in order to diminish the prospect of arbitrary, unnecessary trade-restricting regulations that impede U.S. agriculture from competing in the global marketplace,” he said.

However, the administration’s consideration of a “safe harbor” proposal for tobacco “would create a new and troubling precedent that undermines existing trade disciplines,” Hanson said. Such a provision would not require that a regulation be “necessary” to achieve a legitimate health policy objective, he said, potentially leading to “additional protections and exceptions for products, and lead to regulatory experimentation without the constraints of international trade rules.”