WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2016 - A Colorado honey exporter’s invitation to attend President Obama’s State of the Union speech as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama stirred up controversy ahead of the speech.

Ronna Rice, CEO of Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey in Greeley, Colorado, was invited because the family-operated business is seen as a potential beneficiary of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. The company sells honey in TPP member Japan as well as South Korea and China, according to the White House.

But an advocacy group opposed to the trade deal, Public Citizen, issued an analysis claiming that the tariff cuts in the agreement would do little to help U.S. honey exporters and small businesses such as Rice’s. “The president will no doubt talk about how the TPP will help her sell more honey,” the group said. “Yet like much of the White House TPP sales job, the nice narrative is not supported by the facts.”

An administration official, who responded to the analysis on condition of not being identified, said there are a number of ways Rice’s company will benefit from the TPP.

“Eliminating a 25.5 percent tariff would be a great help gaining market share for U.S. honey producers in Japan, which currently imports $2.1 million worth of U.S. honey,” the official said. New Zealand, while small, also isn’t a trivial potential market, the official said. New Zealand would eliminate a 10-percent duty on imported honey. Another benefit of the deal for small companies is that customs procedures and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules will be uniform across all TPP countries, the official said.

The American Honey Producers Association hasn’t taken a position on the TPP and says the agreement is likely to have little impact on beekeepers because of their inability to increase production. The “United States is a net importer of honey with the significant majority of domestic demand now met by those imports,” said Eric Silva, the group’s federal policy counsel. “As a result of honey bee health and illicit trade challenges, American beekeepers have simply been unable to increase production to meet rising demand.  Honey bee health is under assault from diseases, parasites, chemical pressures, and declining forage options.”  

Representatives of the Colorado company didn’t respond to requests for comment.


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