WASHINGTON, April 20, 2016 – USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Japan this weekend to meet with agriculture ministers from the G-7 group of major industrialized nations. But, in an exclusive interview with Agri-Pulse, Vilsack says a lot of his time will be devoted to keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on track.

Japan, host of this year’s G-7 meeting, has laid out an extensive agenda for the agriculture ministers when they meet Saturday and Sunday in the city of Niigata, but Vilsack said he will also be holding bilateral meetings with representatives of Japan and Canada, two of the 12 Pacific Rim nations in the TPP agreement.

Vilsack said the planned bilateral meeting with his Canadian counterpart will be an opportunity for the U.S. to “express the hope that as the new administration in Canada takes action relative to agricultural issues – anything on dairy or any other issue – that it does so consistent with the TPP framework so that there’s no disruption in the potential benefits for dairy in this country from TPP.”

In a concession that has raised concerns by some in Canada’s dairy industry, the country agreed to open its borders to increased milk, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese during the TPP negotiations that wrapped up in November.

U.S. dairy groups including the National Milk Producers Federation, U.S. Dairy Export Council and the International Dairy Foods Association are strong supporters of the trade deal, but are also concerned that member countries might not uphold the TPP terms.

“TPP can help support the continued growth of a robust U.S. dairy industry, provided not only that the commitments captured in the text of the agreement are fully implemented, but also that countries are not allowed to backtrack on existing market access agreements to offset what has been granted via TPP,” the three groups said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers earlier this month.

U.S. Dairy Export Council President Tom Suber told Agri-Pulse that he appreciates Vilsack’s efforts. Pressure needs to be applied to make sure Canada doesn’t try to “wiggle out of its commitments,” Suber said. “Canada has been fairly creative in the past at finding new ways to block imports to keep their supply management system fully intact.”

Canada, he said, “went into this with a clear acceptance of the fact that they were going to provide access, so that’s what we want to see come out the other end.

In his talks with Japanese officials, Vilsack said he would “reaffirm an understanding and sensitivity to issues in Japan relating to TPP, expressing the hope that [Japan’s] domestic policies are enacted … respecting the framework that TPP has established.”

Japan agreed in the TPP deal to several measures expected to benefit U.S. agricultural exports, including a 50,000-ton duty-free quota for U.S. rice that would rise to 70,000 tons in 13 years, according to USDA reports.

If asked by his Japanese and Canadian counterparts at the G-7 meeting if the U.S. Congress will ratify the TPP this year, Vilsack said his response will be positive.

“I will tell them that I believe that it will happen in the U.S. and I will tell them why I believe that,” he said in the interview. “I believe it because of the independent evaluations that are being done on this trade agreement as it relates to agriculture or as it relates to the economy as a whole, indicating increased exports and increased incomes for producers and American workers.”

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Both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Peterson Institute for International Economics have produced studies showing that the TPP offers substantial gains to the U.S. agricultural sector by increasing foreign markets for their products.

If the TPP is ratified, the Farm Bureau concluded in its analysis, annual net farm income in the U.S. could rise by $4.4 billion.

When the TPP is ratified and begins to take effect, nearly 32 percent of tariff lines in Japan, 31 percent in Vietnam, 92 percent in Malaysia, all but one tariff line in Australia, and 99 percent in New Zealand will be eliminated, and further market liberalization will be phased in over periods of 15 to 20 years,” the Peterson Institute said in its report. “These openings of market access far surpass the record established by past free trade agreements.”


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