Americans tuning into football in the nation’s capital should take note the Washington Redskins won’t be the hottest ticket in town this fall.
A political football called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement promises to kick off on Capitol Hill as the campaign season heats up across America. Political analysts predicted the sweeping trade pact would become a talking point for congressional representatives and U.S. presidential candidates.
Lawmakers lined up to weigh in on the historic 12-nation agreement as details surfaced Monday in Atlanta following a marathon negotiation session. The deal would set up a free-trade zone for an estimated 40 percent of the world’s economy, from North America to Southeast Asia.
“While the details are still emerging, unfortunately I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short,” U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Monday.
Some Democrats joined their colleagues across the aisle in casting doubt on TPP.
“Wall Street and other big corporations have won again,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a prepared statement.
Sanders, who also opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, told U.S. News & World Report he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision to move forward on the “disastrous TPP agreement.” The senator said the pact would hurt consumers and siphon American jobs.
“I will do all that I can to defeat the TPP agreement,” Sanders said.
U.S. lawmakers cannot amend TPP, but Congress has the power to ratify or reject the agreement with an up-or-down vote. Lawmakers in the other 11 TPP countries also must approve the deal.
Though U.S. trade negotiators already have started briefing Congress about the deal, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters Monday deliberations would take months.
“This is really a 2016 issue for Congress to consider, not a 2015 issue,” Froman said.
President Obama praised the agreement – which would not only open markets for agricultural products but other key U.S. industries like auto, chemicals, biotech drugs and machinery. The president said TPP would strengthen U.S. relationships with trading partners in the important Asia-Pacific region currently operating under the shadow of China’s growing influence.
“This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” Obama said in a statement.
Organizations across the agriculture sector seemed in concert with the president on this issue.
Pork and beef weigh in
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) in a prepared statement expressed confidence TPP would benefit all sectors of the U.S. economy and would provide enormous new market opportunities for high-quality American pork products.
Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes estimated the trade pact could increase U.S. pork exports over time exponentially and help create more than 10,000 jobs tied to those exports. Last year, the U.S. pork industry shipped about $4.5 billion of products to the other 11 TPP nations – Japan, Canada, Australia, Brunei, Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, according to an NPPC news release.
“While the full details of the partnership will not be released until the President presents it to Congress, cattle producers are assured this is a true 21st Century agreement,” Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), said. “The TPP will immediately reduce tariffs and level the playing field for U.S. beef exports to these growing markets.”
Beef exports add more than $350 to each head of cattle sold in the U.S., the beef association said.
U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), which recently sponsored a trade delegation to Japan that included pork and beef producers, commended U.S. officials for completing these “complex and difficult” trade negotiations. The TPP regional trade deal initiated in 2008.
“… The big prize here, I would say, for the meat industry is Japan, and then after that probably Vietnam,” Thad Lively, USMEF senior vice president for trade access, said. “Those are two markets where we historically faced very high duties.”
Lively acknowledged the ratification process could be time-consuming.
“Here in the United States, of course, the next big step will be getting this deal approved by our Congress,” he said. “That will be very detailed and complicated and, as you can imagine, a politically exciting process as well.”
U.S. grain commodities on board
National corn and soybean associations lauded the agreement.
“National Crown Growers Association (NCGA) is pleased that an agreement has been reached in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations,” Chip Bowling, NCGA president, said. “We are hopeful this agreement continues the tradition of past free trade agreements, which has had a positive impact for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
American Soybean Association (ASA) applauded the achievement and promised a careful review of the trade pact.
“Over half of the soybeans produced by American farmers are exported overseas, and export markets are extremely important to our domestic livestock producers as well,” Wade Cowan, ASA president, said.
The jury is still out on the dairy industry, some analysts said.
Japan has agreed to accept as much as 60,000 tons of powdered milk and butter from the U.S. in the first year of TPP, though the real value to the dairy industry is about 6,000 tons, sources told Politico, because tonnage is measured in liquid milk. One pound of butter equals about 21.8 pounds of liquid milk. The quota would expand to 70,000 tons after six years, Politico reported Monday.
U.S. dairy industry representatives have yet to weigh in. The National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Council said they would carefully review the agreement’s dairy provisions in the coming days.
Some U.S. labor unions, however, were not shy about expressing their displeasure with TPP.
“Despite broad promises from the Obama administration and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman that the deal would deliver for middle class families, working people know that TPP would be a disaster,” Chris Shelton, president of Communications Workers of America, said. “It would continue the offshoring of jobs and weakening of our communities that started under the North American Free Trade Agreement and hasn’t stopped.”
Official reaction from Japan and Canada was positive.
The conclusion of the TPP agreement offers a major boost to the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship and the promise of closer economic integration, The Japan Times reported Monday. The news agency cited U.S. political analysts who warned TPP was not a guaranteed certainty in the U.S., and that Congress was not likely to ratify the agreement anytime soon.
In Canada, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said the historic deal protects Canadian jobs and creates more for future generations by securing access to millions of new customers in the Asia-Pacific region.
“This deal is, without any doubt whatsoever, in the best interests of the Canadian economy,” Harper said at a news conference Monday.
Canadian beef exports to Japan, the world’s third largest economy, would see tariffs lowered from 38 percent to 9 percent during the next 15 years, CBS News reported.
In a message most likely directed at sceptics in Congress and elsewhere, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday, “Failing to grasp this opportunity would be a mistake – worse than just losing out on potential gains, our producers would fall behind other countries that are negotiating their own preferential arrangements in TPP countries.”
Vilsack said the administration was committed to working with Congress within the framework of the recently passed Trade Promotion Authority to obtain strong bipartisan support for the historic trade deal that he said benefits farmers, ranchers and all those who live, work and raise families in rural communities.
TPP countries account for about 42 percent of all U.S. agriculture exports, totaling $63 billion, Vilsack said.
“Increased demand for American agricultural products and expanded agricultural exports as a result of this agreement will support stronger commodity prices and increase farm income,” Vilsack said. “Increased exports under TPP will create more good-paying, export-related jobs, further strengthening the rural economy.”