Despite the flurry of press releases from members of Congress and almost every agriculture organization under the sun following the recent conclusion of years-long negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, it’s by no means a done deal.
The announcement had hardly hit the news before sniping ramped up by those who oppose what would be one of the largest free trade agreements in U.S. history, and has been a major goal of the Obama administration. Much of the opposition comes from the president’s own party.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said, “This deal, which will affect 40 percent of our global economy, will be even more unenforceable and more disastrous for American jobs and our economy than NAFTA has already proven to be.” The TTP, she says, “will benefit Wall Street banks and multinational corporations on the backs of hard-working Americans, and will increase existing threats to our environment.”
Stay informed on what’s happening in Mid-South agriculture: Subscribe to Delta Farm Press Daily.
Republicans were quick to reiterate their ongoing opposition. “This deal appears to fall woefully short,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The U.S. “shouldn’t settle for a mediocre deal,” he said. Others decrying the agreement contend it will further increase the flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries, further reduce wages in the U.S., add to global pollution, and result in even higher prices for many products that are already high cost, including pharmaceuticals.
Major labor and trade unions are against it. Leading presidential candidates in both parties are denouncing it. Republican presidential wannabe Donald Trump termed it “a terrible deal.” Democrat hopeful Bernie Sanders has opposed it all along, calling it “disastrous.”
Proponents, including many major agricultural commodity and trade organizations, say TPP will create more economic opportunities, growth, and jobs, while boosting agricultural exports, and eliminating many tariffs and market access barriers. With much of U.S. agricultural production dependent on the export market, the pact is vital to the sector’s future, they say.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, expressed reservations about “the lack of progress in several key areas that, if not adequately addressed, would make passage of this agreement incredibly difficult in the House.”
Chairman Conaway outlines concerns
Among his concerns, he said, are “lack of market access for rice and dairy,” and concern about “a new carve-out proposal for tobacco, establishing a dangerous new precedent that could negatively impact agriculture going forward.” He also expressed concern about market access for sugar. “While I am encouraged to hear that U.S. livestock products, such as beef and pork, will see significant gains in market access, it will take a coalition of many to move TPP over the coming months. At this time, I am skeptical that these concerns were sufficiently addressed, but will remain open-minded.”
Important upcoming events: Delta Farm Press Calendar of Events
American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan, a Brownfield, Texas, farmer, said the organization “applauds” the agreement “that is intended to create more opportunities, economic growth, and jobs.”
Noting that over half of the soybeans produced by American farmers are exported, he said “this trade agreement has the potential to increase agricultural exports to new markets and allow U.S. farmers to better compete in existing markets.”
But, Cowan said, “ASA plans to carefully read the terms of the agreement to insure that soybean farmers, as well as livestock producers, are getting a fair deal before rendering a final judgment on the TPP. Everything we’ve seen and heard thus far makes us feel very positive.”
U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said the agreement “has the potential to increase economic opportunity and wheat demand, even in countries where we already have duty-free access.” He said it “should help us be more competitive, and hopefully lead to even more opportunity for our wheat as new countries join TPP in the future.”
U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight said, “We fundamentally believe that reducing the range of barriers to open trade will benefit not just the grain industry, but also the overseas customers we have sought to serve for more than 50 years. Our priorities in these talks have been focused on the board goal of securing increased market access for U.S. grains and ethanol, and insuring that existing access remains open.”
The president must wait 90 days to sign the agreement, and then Congress can only vote yes or no — no changes/amendments allowed. Opponents will use that time to marshal their forces to try and defeat the measure. Insider predictions are that the measure will eventually win approval, but with the widespread opposition and with the 2016 presidential election looming, a battle royal could ensue before that happens.