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By Len Bracken
Sept. 21 — Some lawmakers have been receptive to the call from state agriculture groups for passing the trans-Pacific trade agreement this year, an industry representative said Sept. 21.
David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional affairs with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a conference call with reporters that lawmakers are aware of the problems faced by U.S. producers, such as low prices, which makes them receptive to the message from the farm bureaus from their states to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“Agriculture is facing a lot of challenges and the TPP—with all the pro-agriculture elements in it—is something that Congress can do to help agriculture sector in the U.S. now,” he said. “I think they're very receptive to that message.”
Salmonsen said that most of the state farm bureau groups have come to Washington, D.C., this spring and summer, with roughly 14 state groups visiting Capitol Hill over the last week or two to speak with their legislators.
The conference call, which was hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), coincided with a joint letter from several industry associations, including the Coalition of Services Industries (CSI) to the leaders of Congress and President Barack Obama to work together to pass the TPP by the end of the year.
Salmonsen said the projected increase in U.S. agricultural exports from TPP would come primarily from tariff cuts. He said the TPP is needed not only because of low prices, but also because of increased foreign competition. He noted that Australia has a trade agreement with Japan and is already benefiting from lower beef prices.
“For agriculture, the TPP is in many ways a classic trade agreement that focuses on a lot of tariff barriers that U.S. agriculture still faces in this region, and primarily with Japan,” he said, citing the reduction Japanese beef tariffs from 38.5 percent to 9 percent.
In addition to Australia, Japan and the U.S., the 12-nation TPP includes other countries with important agricultural sectors, such as Canada, Chile and New Zealand.
Christine Bliss, president of the CSI, said the U.S. is the most competitive supplier of services in the world, she said, adding that the sector is under performing with regard to exports. TPP is an opportunity that the U.S. cannot afford to lose, she said.
The pact would ensure that goods supplied electronically would be treated the same as conventionally shipped goods. The deal also has the first-ever binding agreement ensuring the free flow of data across borders.
She highlighted that the TPP includes provisions on postal entities that sell insurance, which she said would help U.S. insurance companies compete in TPP markets, notably in Japan. The agreement also requires all TPP countries to allow cross-border electronic payment services, which would increase market access for U.S. credit and debit payment services.
Linda Dempsey, vice president for international economic affairs for NAM, noted that there are “strong and often unnoticed” benefits for manufacturing when the services and agriculture sectors have increased exports.
Dempsey said the TPP would be taken up during the lame-duck session because the option not to move on it would create a “dire” situation, as mentioned in the letter, because of lost market share to countries, particularly to China, that have trade agreements with TPP countries with which the U.S. does not have trade pacts in place.
Dontai Smalls, vice president of global public affairs for UPS, said pessimistic statements from congressional leaders haven't fully closed the door on the TPP for 2016, indicating that if outstanding issues are resolved in coming months, then they might be open to considering it. He also noted that pro-trade lawmakers who have faced primary challenges on the issue have survived, which indicates to him that there is still an appetite in the electorate for market-opening trade agreements.
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The letter to congressional leaders and President Obama is available at http://src.bna.com/iMT.
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