Santa Ana Pueblo, NM, Aug. 4, 2015 -- Participants and observers returning from the latest round of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations in Hawaii, say resolution of agricultural and other knotty provisions of the pact are edging toward the finish line.

Appearing at a conference of the American Sugar Alliance here, Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, the U.S. Trade Representative’s deputy negotiator for agricultural issues, claimed “significant progress,” including work on sticky agricultural standoffs. “A limited number of remaining issues” still prevent the pact from being inked, she says.

Don Phillips, the ASA’s trade lobbyist, attended the Maui session and says an increased seriousness and intensity of negotiators pressing to complete the agreement was evident, though he opined that when the negotiators ended their rendezvous once again reporting significant progress . . . “coming out and saying what they’ve said for the umpteenth time, it’s not very impressive.”

Among key agricultural issues, plus others on auto trade, patent protection for prescription drugs and currency exchange, both Lauritsen and Phillips point to dairy as the toughest agricultural conflict. That is least in part because it’s multinational, with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and others pressing Canada and Japan to ease the stiff barriers to their dairy markets. “Personally, I think it’s the toughest [holdup],” Phillips said.

Also, Australia’s pressure on the U.S. to expand its sugar import market continues, and both parties now acknowledge Australia will get to market more in the U.S. than the 87,400 metric tons that the U.S. has allotted that country for the next year. Volumes of up to twice that tonnage are mentioned, and such increases are typically phased in rather than immediate. Lauritsen repeated the U.S. negotiators’ pledge to agree to “nothing that will undermine the U.S. sugar program.”

Lauritsen says the agreement will also build on rules for sanitation and plant disease protection already implemented by the World Trade Organization, plus will in some ways address trade in organic and products of biotechnology. Rules for trading patented biologics, which include drugs developed via biotech tweaks, for example, are being hammered out.

On the other hand, she noted the TPP won’t deal with domestic government supports for crops and livestock, even though various subsidies and price supports often affect international markets and export access. She said policing of such supports will depend on WTO rules, which address direct payments for crop and livestock production, yet give a green light to conservation assistance or other payments not tied to specific farm products.

The twelve countries participating in the TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.


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