WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2016 - Fierce opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at both national political conventions last month is the newest symptom of what a leading agricultural economist has called “a tougher period of trade policy.” The U.S. skepticism about trade liberalization also shows in the failure of negotiators to complete an agreement after 13 years of Doha Round talks, says Virginia Tech’s David Orden, an International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) senior research fellow.

“It is a tougher world trade regime that we are going to be entering this year,” he said. After eight successful rounds of negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the more recent World Trade Organization (WTO) over more than 60 years, “to conclude this one without a binding agreement is pretty substantial,” he said last week at the Washington office of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Factors that could alter the long-term projections of food production and trade include potential policy changes that could occur in the next U.S. farm bill or in China and what he calls “a depressing analysis, given the way this [trade] debate has turned in the current environment.”

He said that an IFPRI analysis concluded that with the failure of the Doha Round, if trading partners reverted to their previously bound tariffs “or the highest they had imposed in the past decade,” it would have negative consequences and “a substantial impact” on the world economy.

Orden, co-editor of a definitive 2011 book on WTO disciplines on farm supports, noted with concern that the TPP was “under assault” at both conventions. “If you look at the U.S. International Trade Commission analysis [of TPP], it has some modest benefits,” he said. “Agriculture benefits more than proportionately. It is one of the major beneficiaries.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, addressing about 100 volunteers for “Team Rural for Hillary” last week in Philadelphia, said, “There is a clear contrast” on trade between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who earlier belittled U.S. exports of beef and wheat to Japan in the face of imports of “millions of cars.”

“If you’re a farmer in this country today, you rely on exports,” Vilsack said. “Forget about trade agreements. Put that aside for a second. We have to be part of an international organization that is focused on making sure we play on a level playing field. Donald Trump basically wants us to do business by ourselves. Can you imagine what corn prices, beef prices, hog prices would be if we didn’t have some place to sell that stuff?”

Notwithstanding campaign criticism, one trade expert has some optimism about TPP – and by extension, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in the next administration. “Despite the strident anti-trade rhetoric of the 2016 election cycle and the disavowals of the [TPP] agreement by both major-party presidential candidates, the next U.S. president will be happy to have the TPP in his or her foreign policy toolbox and will do what it takes to make that happen,” Daniel J. Ikenson, director of Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, wrote last week on Forbes.com.

“While candidates might rail against unfair trade practices and un-level playing fields on the stump, their perspectives change in the White House,” he said, noting that President Obama “immediately reneged on his campaign pledge to reopen NAFTA, pushed for ratification of three trade agreements he had opposed on the stump, and negotiated and concluded the largest free trade agreement in U.S. history,” the TPP. “Those were the right choices.”

“Clinton’s and Trump’s selections of decidedly pro-trade, pro-TPP running mates suggest that the same rules and assumptions still apply,” Ikenson says, adding, Clinton, as secretary of state, recognized TPP as a key part of the “shift to Asia” in 2009. “As for Donald Trump, one must ask: What better way to make America great again than by reasserting U.S. global economic leadership and compelling China to play by the rules that will govern 21st Century trade?”


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