White House pushes rural lawmakers on TPA
February 26, 2015
PHOENIX – The Obama administration ramped up its campaign Feb. 26, to convince rural lawmakers to vote for trade promotion authority while opponents on Capitol Hill increased their campaign to stop it.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a White House call on the issue before he flew here to speak to the Growth Energy and Commodity Classic meetings.
Darci Vetter, the chief U.S. agriculture negotiator, spoke this afternoon to Growth Energy, an ethanol group, and is also scheduled to speak Friday to the Commodity Classic, which is a gathering of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers.
"Ethanol trade is expanding across the globe," Vetter told Growth Energy, noting that U.S. ethanol exports already total $2 billion, and that exports of dried distillers grains, an ethanol byproduct, total $3 billion.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, Vetter said, would eliminate a 27.2 percent tariff on ethanol in Japan and a 40 percent tariff in Vietnam.
On the call, Vilsack said that President Barack Obama has issued a new set of executive actions to help increase exports from rural America as part of the administration's "Made in Rural America" initiative.
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Vilsack said the administration would bring more potential foreign buyers to trade shows in the United States and double the number of rural businesses attending international trade shows and missions with the help and sponsorship of partners, including the Appalachian Regional Commission and Delta Regional Authority.
He also said that the U.S. Postal Service will conduct workshops at 75 locations throughout rural America to explain exporting and e-commerce and how to file customs forms online, and how to calculate and plan for export shipping costs.
The administration will also "develop better financial indexing and metrics for rural infrastructure projects" to "underpin additional investments in roads, bridges, inland ports, water supply systems, information technology, and community facilities that are vital to manufacturing and exports," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said it is important to complete the TPP because it is a "a high standard agreement" that will provide greater market access" in fast-growing Asia.
"We want to make sure we don't cede ground to China in that effort," he added.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, added, "It is important to make sure opportunities are available in every part of the country and every constituency."
Muñoz added that members of the Cabinet are fanning out to meet with members of Congress and business owners. "The goal is to make sure this is a well informed debate," she said.
Muñoz, Vilsack and Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews all said that exports create higher-paying, middle class jobs. Vilsack said the administration will distribute state-by-state fact sheets on the benefits of the TPP.
The White House effort is taking place a week after Vilsack told the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum that congressional votes on trade promotion authority would be a "close call."
The American Farm Bureau Federation and most commodity and meat groups favor the passage of TPA because they feel it is necessary to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but the National Farmers Union, the most Democratic-leaning farm group, urged members of Congress to oppose TPA, also known as "fast track."
"Trade promotion authority ("fast track") would remove an important constitutional check on the president's power to negotiate trade agreements," noted NFU President Roger Johnson in a letter sent to all members of Congress this week.
"Trade agreements must be fair for all parties involved and should therefore be subjected to review by the Congress — not conducted secretly."
A group of Democratic senators opposed to TPA — Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts— and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled Senate floor speeches late this afternoon with the Twitter theme of "#NotAnotherNAFTA."
The developments occurred as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, canceled a scheduled trade hearing.
Hatch appeared to blame Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., for the cancellation, but Washington Trade Daily reported that Hatch, Wyden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were trying to reach agreement on the legislation.
Other media reports have said that legislators are divided over who should be able to see the language of the TPP agreement as it develops.
"Given concerns expressed by Sen. Wyden, we're going to postpone tomorrow's hearing and continue our discussion on how best to advance America's trade agenda, including legislation to renew job-creating Trade Promotion Authority," Hatch said.
WTD also reported that Acting Deputy Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said today that momentum is building toward conclusion of the TPP.
–The Hagstrom Report