WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 - The administration’s top trade official told a group of agricultural stakeholders on Tuesday that if Congress doesn’t approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the year, it’s “unclear” when lawmakers may get to it.
Speaking to members of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives on Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that the U.S. approval process for TPP “lags somewhat behind” the 11 other countries in the ambitious trade deal. He said that if TPP “doesn’t get done this year, it’s unclear exactly when it might get done” and urged NCFC members to press for action on Capitol Hill.
“It’s not just about what you stand to gain from TPP on the up-side,” he said. “It’s what you stand to lose if TPP is delayed and other countries move ahead with their own trade agreement.”
Froman elaborated by pointing to an example often cited by the beef industry: Australia’s tariff for beef in Japan is significantly lower than the levies faced by U.S. exporters. He said that as the U.S. works around the delicate political environment brought about by an election year, other countries are taking steps to better position their products in competing markets.
“They’re not waiting around for us,” Froman said.
NCFC President and CEO Chuck Conner told his members that he doesn’t want to predict when the agreement could move, but said he doesn’t think it will be “in the next couple of months.”
“This is not a great time to be talking about trade, folks,” Conner said, noting that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have come out against TPP. “It’s not just the two presidential candidates – they are reflecting a general sentiment across the country that is strong out there against trade during these times.”
Perhaps no better evidence of the strong divide in public opinion on TPP existed than in the Hyatt Regency in Washington where NCFC is meeting this week. On the same day that the country’s top trade official was rallying support for the agreement, a union group was hosting a meeting in the very same hotel titled “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: It’s worse than we thought.”
When asked by a reporter how to move the agreement forward, Froman was noncommittal, saying that USTR was working with leaders in Congress to identify “the best process and the best timing.” Many in agriculture were hopeful that movement could happen before Congress takes its summer recess next month.
Despite uncertainty surrounding timing, Froman called on NCFC and on agriculture more broadly to try and sell the agreement with legislators and the public.
“I’ve learned from experience that when this community, the agricultural community, gets mobilized, there’s very little that you can’t accomplish,” Froman said. His sentiments echo similar comments from other members of the administration about agriculture’s role in lobbying for the agreement, and Conner, himself a former interim agriculture secretary, repeated Froman’s words with a plea for action from NCFC members.
“Failure is not an option here,” Conner said.
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