WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2015 - President Obama launched his push for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership today with a one-hour, closed-door meeting with leaders of agriculture and other business sectors that will be critical to the coming congressional debate.
Agriculture’s importance to the White House strategy was immediately clear. The meeting held at the Agriculture Department, and three of the 18 business leaders represented agriculture. And one of them, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, was seated next to Obama, ensuring Stallman would be in news photos of the meeting.
Michael Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, was seated next to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Bobby Koch, president and CEO of the Wine Institute,also attended,
In addition, there were officials with Cummins Inc., Marriott International, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also attended.
In remarks to reporters who were allowed into the meeting room briefly, Obama expressed confidence that Congress would eventually approve the deal and said there would be “a long, healthy process of discussion and consultation and debate before this ever comes to a vote.”
The administration released some additional detail on the impact of the agreement on agriculture. According to a fact sheet, more than 50 percent of U.S. farm products by value will enter Japan duty free once the agreement is implemented, including include grapes, strawberries, walnuts and most pet foods. Vietnam has committed to eliminate more than 60 percent of agricultural tariffs, and Malaysia and New Zealand have committed to immediately eliminate more than 90 percent of all agricultural tariffs.
Japan has agreed to lower its tariff on beef from 38.5 percent to 9 percent and eliminate a 21 percent tariff on soybean oil.
Stallman said the USDA meeting was substantive, mostly taken up with the business leaders asking questions and making comments on the agreement. “It was very interactive,” Stallman said.
As for getting a prime seat at the table, Stallman told Agri-Pulse that the agreement would be “hugely important for agriculture.”
TPP “will expand markets. It will reduce some of the opportunities for non-tariff trade barriers to be put in place. And the economic impact in that region, partially in those developing countries, is going to increase middle class incomes and increase demand for the high-quality products that U.S. farmers and ranchers produce,” Stallman said.
Obama pledged to pitch the agreement’s benefits not just to members to Congress but to the American public as well as governors and mayors.
“I suspect there is going to be some misinformation that is propagated around this … but I’m also confident that the case for this as good for America is sufficiently strong that ultimately we’re going to get this done.”
During the meeting, Obama "restated the obvious” about the potential benefit of the trade pact to agriculture, Stallman said. "He understands fully the importance of this agreement to agriculture."
A spokesman for the National Chicken Council, Tom Super, said the group appreciated being included in the meeting. “Chicken producers remain optimistic (about the agreement), but the devil is in the details,” Super said.
The agreement has received a cool reception from key congressional Republicans so far, in part because it didn’t protect tobacco products from foreign anti-smoking rules.