WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2015 - Former agriculture secretaries who have served presidents going back nearly 35 years endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying trade agreement should boost U.S. farm exports significantly.

In a letter released by the Department of Agriculture, the seven former secretaries said the political and economic focus on Asia that the 12-nation agreement represents “fits American agriculture perfectly.”

“That's where populations are increasing, as is purchasing power, and that's what dramatically enhances the demand for our food. We will in the future benefit significantly from increased access to those markets,” the secretaries wrote. 

The Obama administration is counting on agribusiness interests to deliver a substantial number of votes in Congress for the agreement, which lawmakers are expected to take up next year. 

The agreement would lower tariffs on a range of commodities into Japan and other markets and also would impose restrictions on the trade barriers that countries could impose for food safety or plant and animal health. There also are provisions intended to smooth trade in agricultural biotechnology. 

“We have long had aspirations to sell more of our products to Japan, and we'll now have that enhanced opportunity. But TPP also opens up new markets in the growing economies of Vietnam and Malaysia. And it even provides additional access to Canada's poultry, egg and dairy markets," the secretaries wrote. 

They also said the the agreement’s labor and environmental provisions would help make U.S. exports more competitive with those from developing countries. 

The letter was signed by Ed Schafer, Mike Johanns and Ann Veneman, who served under George W. Bush; Dan Glickman and Mike Espy (Bill Clinton); Clayton Yeutter (George H.W. Bush); and John Block (Ronald Reagan).

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, meanwhile, discussed the TPP with his Japanese counterpart, Hiroshi Moriyama, in Tokyo Thursday. According to a USDA summary of the meeting, the two officials agreed that they both must sell the benefits of the deal to lawmakers in their respective countries considering the “legislative timelines for considering the deal are relatively tight.”

Rural development took up part of the meeting, too. Both men agreed “there must be a more concerted effort to explain to young people the economic benefits of agriculture and to create excitement for ag as a viable career,” USDA said.