WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 – With the latest round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations under way, access for agricultural products to Japan and Canada remain among the unresolved issues, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.
Froman said other major issues holding up a final agreement involve intellectual property rights, environmental issues and tariffs on manufactured goods in several TPP countries. Still, when Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, pressed Froman on how long it would be before a deal could be concluded, he said negotiators are focused on “a small number of months.”
Froman went before the Senate panel as well as the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday to answer questions about U.S. trade policy and trade deals including the TPP. Negotiations on the ambitious treaty involving 11 other Pacific Rim nations appear to be drawing to a conclusion.
Noting that USTR has been engaged in bilateral talks with Japan for about a year, Froman said all agricultural products -- including those Japan deems “sanctuary” products -- are included in the TPP negotiations. “I think we've made substantial progress, but there's still work to do…discussions are ongoing,” he said, noting USTR is going through almost 2,000 tariff lines of agricultural products with Japan.
In response to a question from Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Froman denied media reports that the U.S. had agreed to drop standards on car imports in exchange for Japan’s agreement to import an additional 10,000 tons of U.S. rice – a response she called “critically important.”
At the House hearing, Froman said “good progress” is being made in the TPP for dairy, and negotiators “are going line by line” through dairy issues to decide where tariffs can be eliminated altogether, adding, “we're not finished yet.” Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., noted that “it's pretty clear” to most committee members that there was still a “ways to go” in the discussions with Canada.
Legislators in both committees indicated to Froman that they want President Barack Obama to work harder to persuade Democrats skeptical of the TPP to support Trade Promotion Authority. TPA establishes consultation and notification requirements for a president to follow throughout the negotiation process. Once negotiators reach a deal, however, Congress would have to vote up or down on the treaty, with no amendments or filibusters. Congress has granted TPA to every president since 1974, with the most recent law approved in August 2002 and expiring in 2007.
Agricultural stakeholders including the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Chicken Council this week also came out strongly in support of TPA, as a way to help the Obama administration close TPP and other trade agreements. Obama encouraged TPA passage in his State of the Union address, giving hope that trade agreements could present an opportunity for bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Congress.
“We know the president wants TPA, but I hope you'll tell him that if we're going get TPA passed, he's going to have to work the telephone one-on-one with some senators to get us to the 60-vote threshold,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., echoed concerns of labor unions when he said the TPP must also be a good deal for U.S. middle class workers. He said provisions should “lift wages, help create middle-class jobs, and expand the winner's circle…What's going to be different this time?” Wyden asked.
Froman said the TPP labor and environment protections will be part of the “core of the agreement,” instead of “side issues” as they were in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
During the House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Froman reiterated that one of the “innovations” of TPP is that it includes strong human rights provisions and strong enforcement rules. Human rights issues involving TPP countries like Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have been of particular concern to some critics.
“Our trade agenda gives us the opportunity to promote our values as well as our interests,” Froman said. “This is much different than NAFTA where labor was treated as a side issue. That's an important development here…It's only because of TPP that we have the opportunity to have that kind of dialogue.”
USTR is working with Vietnam on poultry provisions, among other policies. Froman said American poultry producers must pay tariffs as high as 40 percent on exports to Vietnam, twice as high as those faced by Australia and New Zealand producers.
The Senate hearing was interrupted by protesters from a group called PopularResistance.org. who said they fear TPA will limit congressional oversight over trade agreements. Unions like AFL-CIO and Teamsters are against the Asia-Pacific trade agreement and passing TPA.
Froman said a common “misperception” about TPP is that it will get voted on before there is adequate time to review it. “It will be public for months and months before it's voted on in Congress. There will be hearings, questions and scrutiny,” he said. “At end of day it is only Congress that can decide if goes into effect.”
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