WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 –Negotiators are closer than ever to finalizing the groundbreaking trade agreement called the but trade experts say Congress probably won’t get its say on any deal until during the 2016 election year.
Speaking to members of the American Soybean Association, Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, and Craig Thorn, a partner at DTB Associates, offered slightly different timelines for congressional consideration of TPP, but both predicted sometime next year. Reinsch – who joked that the agreement was “waddling toward conclusion” – said a general rule of thumb is that once trade ministers OK a deal, it will need “five or six months before it is ready to go to Congress for consideration,” a timeline allowing for translations of the bulky document and other clerical matters to be resolved.
Trade officials from the 12 Pacific Rim countries involved in TPP are set to meet in Hawaii from Friday through the end of the month. After five years of talks, Reinsch said issues remain over things like market access, which he thinks will result in negotiations being extended. However, he admits others have a more optimistic outlook.
“The business community consensus – absent me, and I want to be clear that I’m in the minority – is that there’s a good chance this meeting of ministers at the end of the month will bring the negotiations to a conclusion and we’ll be able to get the thing moving and get it to Congress if not by the end of the year, then shortly thereafter,” Reinsch said. He thinks the upcoming Hawaii meetings will narrow some differences, but that the heads of state will have to get involved to finalize the deal.
Thorn was a little more optimistic on the timeline, saying he thought there was “a good chance” that the negotiations would conclude by the end of the month. He focused his remarks specifically on the agricultural aspects of the TPP, such as the “significant progress” he noted on Japan’s so-called “sacred products.” These products – rice, beef, pork, dairy, wheat, barley and sugar – were central to agricultural negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, and Thorn said many Japanese negotiators were surprised by the U.S. negotiating strategy.
“I’m of the opinion that the U.S. sort of let up on the gas a little too early in the negotiation,” Thorn said. “It was nearly two years ago when (U.S. negotiators) shifted from talking about tariff elimination to talking about gaining meaningful market access for sensitive products in the Japanese market. I’ve had a lot of contact with Japanese negotiators through the process, I think they were surprised at the shift in rhetoric and surprised that the pressure from the United States didn’t last longer.” Negotiating tactics aside, Thorn said he hopes the finished product is still good for agricultural interests.
“I know there are going to be market access gains. In the end, I certainly hope we have a package that is worth defending,” he told ASA members. He said he believes most of the U.S. commodity groups that produce the products Japan considers “sacred” will end up supporting the agreement, “but that’s not where it ends. It’s not just about Japan,” he said.
Thorn predicted that issues with Canadian dairy and poultry policies may be further complicated by the Japanese sacred products policies. He said that Canada may offer a deal, but will first want to know what Japan is doing on rice, beef, or any of its other sacred products. Last week, 21 House members sent a letter to Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., saying they would find it “difficult” to support Canada’s inclusion in TPP “if significant new dairy access is not part of the deal.”
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