WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 – As international trade talks continue to intensify, the negotiator responsible for America’s agricultural interests told reporters this week that a deal with trading partners along the Pacific Rim could be reached sooner rather than later.
In remarks Monday night to the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, Darci Vetter, the chief agricultural negotiator with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a budding trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries is “rapidly heading toward conclusion.”
“I’m sure there are some of you who have interviewed me and heard me say ‘We’re in the end game on TPP’ maybe more than once, but this time I really mean it,” Vetter said.
She said TPP negotiators have made “very significant progress” on market access issues with Japan, which has been a major roadblock in the talks. “We’re not quite finished, but we’ve made very clear progress.”
“It’s a huge market, but it still has tremendous potential,” said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, who noted that Japan accounted for almost a third of total U.S. pork exports last year and is the top U.S. customer for the meat.
“We export that much to Japan, and that’s with tariffs and a gate price system that limits the amount of pork we can sell,” Warner said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.
Vetter said this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe likely wouldn’t result in any kind of grand announcement. Instead, she said the meeting would be a discussion on how the two countries could provide “momentum and leadership” to the other nations involved in TPP negotiations. Abe was scheduled to address a joint session of Congress Wednesday morning.
Indeed, in a joint statement released Tuesday morning, the U.S. and Japan mentioned the “significant progress” that been made on the TPP and pledged to “reaffirm” a commitment to bring the treaty to a successful conclusion.
“There might have been a time early in the negotiations when things were tougher and we wondered would Japan get there,” Vetter said. “Now, there is strong support among all of the TPP countries for moving forward with all 12 countries as long as they are able to provide meaningful access on a comprehensive list of products.”
Still, Vetter said some of the hardest issues – agriculture and autos - lie ahead in TPP negotiations. But she is confident solutions will be developed to complete one of the largest free trade agreements in history.
“At the end, what you’re left with are the hardest decisions, and that’s where we are and we are grappling with them head on,” Vetter said. “It’s going to take technical work and technical creativity and political will to get over the hump of these last negotiations, but all the countries at the table are actively engaged…Our goal, of course, is to close negotiations as soon as possible.”
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