WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015 – Negotiations continue in the Senate over a bill that would grant President Obama trade promotion authority, a key step toward closing a new Pacific Rim trade agreement. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch hoped to release a TPA bill this week, but the committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, hasn’t agreed on the language yet.
“The discussions are continuing,” is all Wyden would say on Tuesday when asked about the issue. The Senate is supposed to take the lead on passing TPA.
Japanese leaders brought up the TPA issue during a meeting last week with a congressional delegation that included House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb. Negotiators aren’t expected to close the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement until Congress passes TPA, which would prevent lawmakers from amending the TPP agreement.
During the meetings, Japanese officials didn’t specifically say they were waiting for TPA to pass before they made their best offer on the stubborn agricultural and auto issues, but “connecting all the dots,” that was “a point that I took away from our meeting,” Smith said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.
Ryan impressed on the Japanese that it was important to get the agreement finalized this year to avoid it getting sidetracked in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Smith said.
Smith said he left Japan optimistic that there will be a deal. “The encouraging part is they understand the importance of being involved in the TPP,” said Smith, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which would handle both TPA and the TPP agreement. “
“It’s still a lift, let me be very clear,” Smith said of the TPP. “These issues need to be resolved. But given the importance of the issue, I’m hopeful we’ll find ourselves with a workable product.”
During the two days in Tokyo, the lawmakers met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as Japan’s top trade official, Minister of Economic Revitalization Akira Amari, and Foreign Minster Fumio Kishida. Earlier, the delegation stopped in Singapore and Malaysia - two other TPP countries.
The National Pork Producers Council took the stance last year that Japan should be dropped from the talks unless it agreed to give significant market access to U.S. farm groups, but the group’s leadership believes there has been progress.
“Nobody will really know until there’s a deal, but we are withholding judgment,” the group’s CEO, Neil Dierks, told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday. “Our position remains reduced tariffs, increased access, but we know without TPA, even if there’s a perfect deal, it’s all for naught most likely.”
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