Karsting, ag leaders spread pro-TPP message in Midwest
November 12, 2015
Phil Karsting, administrator of the Agriculture Department's Foreign Agricultural Service, joined with corn, soybean, beef, pork, and wheat leaders to spread the message in the heartland this week that Congress should approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. They attended the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Trade Talk event in Kansas City.
"A central question for American agriculture is: 'Are we better off with or without TPP?'" and the "resounding answer" is that agriculture is better with its passage, Karsting said Wednesday at a news conference with a nationwide telephone hookup.
Karsting, who grew up in Blue Hill, Neb., as the son of the owners of a farm supply store, said that 20 percent of American farm income comes from exports, and that the TPP would set "the rules of the road for 40 percent of the globe's economy."
But Karsting also signaled that the campaign to pass TPP is necessary — and that not everyone in rural America may be aware of its importance.
"We need to remind everybody across America that everybody has skin in the game," Karsting said.
The question is not, "Are we going to have new rules of trade? The question is who is going to write them. It is about setting a framework where we have trade rules that make sense," Karsting said.
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The administrator noted that, in accordance with the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, U.S. trade advisory committees will prepare reports on the TPP that will be submitted to Congress and eventually made public through the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
But Karsting also had to address the fact that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has said that the agreement should be negotiated because it does not protect American pharmaceutical products for a long enough period.
"The sections of the TPP are an amalgam," Karsting said. "You start pulling one string and something comes apart in another place."
Obama administration officials "will continue having conversations with Sen. Hatch," Karsting said, but the situation is "not a simple matter of reopening the text and saying we are going to do it — every piece of that agreement is related to every other piece."
White House officials have made the same point in recent days, saying that reopening the agreement is not a realistic idea.
Hatch also said, however, that the dairy and tobacco provisions may discourage some senators from voting for the agreement.
The soybean, corn, pork, beef, and wheat leaders focused on the benefits of the agreement to each of their products.
American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan said that TPP would result in the elimination of tariffs in all of the 11 other countries involved in the agreement within 10 years. He added that, because of the agreement, "sanitary and phytosanitary provisions are going to be based on science, not based on the whims of people in other countries who come up with reasons not to accept our product."
"We will push for passage, and we are sure the president will sign this," Cowan said.
National Pork Producers Council President-elect John Weber said that "Iowa's pork producers strongly and unequivocally support TPP. We will encourage Congress to pass it quickly. Contrary to what you may have heard from Donald Trump, TPP will benefit farmers and ranchers and consumers."
Other countries that produce pork "are negotiating deals, and U.S. pork producers will lose markets in Asia if TPP is not passed or delayed," he said.
National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling said that NCGA supports TPP because it will give U.S. producers access to some of the world's fastest growing economies and because it will reduce nontariff barriers. He added that it has provisions that may make it easier to get biotech approvals in the countries signing the agreement.
Bowling and Cowan both noted that they favor TPP not just because it makes it easier to export corn and soybeans, but because it will make it easier to export U.S. meat.
"Our success is intertwined. We are here to help," Bowling said. NCGA will "go to Capitol Hill" in the next few months and ask members of Congress to vote for it, he said.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Immediate Past President Bob McCan noted that there has been "turbulence" in the cattle markets in recent months and attributed that to an 11 percent decline in sales to Japan because Australia and Japan have signed a free trade agreement that gives Australian beef better access.
The TPP will lower Japanese beef tariffs to 9 percent, and the agreement covers countries that make up 60 percent of the U.S. beef export market, he said.
Alan Tiemann, chairman of the U.S. Grains Council, which promotes the export of all feed grains, noted that, while exports in the sector have been down in some countries, they have been up in the TPP countries.
"As farmers, we know (that) when trade works, the world wins," Tiemann said.
National Association of Wheat Growers President Brett Blankenship said that the TPP is "a good template to move forward" because it increases quota for wheat in Japan and provides tariff relief in other countries.
"This is a fantastic chance, and we will not squander it," Blankenship said.
Karsting concluded by stating that the agreement is also good for consumers, because it will provide stability and assure that people around the world will have access to food.
"We are going to have 9.5 billion people by 2050," Karsting said. "One of the ways you enhance global food security is through trade agreements. It will set the tone for a broader conversation about how we make trade systems operate more efficiently."
–The Hagstrom Report