Future of TPP still unknown

by Ron Sterk
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 Trans-Pacific Partnership
The 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership was finalized last year and has yet to be approved by the US Congress.
 
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Views on whether the hard-fought agreement on the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was finalized last year, would be approved by the US Congress varied from hopeful to not likely among speakers at the American Sugar Alliance’s 33rd annual International Sweetener Symposium held Aug. 1-3 in Coeur D’Alene.

 

Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator, Office of the US Trade Representative and a key figure in the negotiation of the TPP, speaking at the Symposium Aug. 2, was hopeful the agreement would be passed during the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections this year. Because there is a specific timeframe for passage of the TPP once it leaves the White House, she indicated it would be sent to the House Ways and Means Committee by President Barack Obama once it was evident there were sufficient votes for its approval.

Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator, Office of the US Trade Representative

“We need to be sure TPP is passed this year,” Vetter said. But she cautioned that if it wasn’t passed before the end of the year, “it may not be done for a long time, if at all.” She noted that neither of the two major presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, appeared to be interested in pushing the TPP forward next year.

Ryan Weston, who represents the interests of several sugar cane groups in Washington and is a member of the American Sugar Alliance executive committee, said he had “never seen a higher level of anti-trade rhetoric” than at the recently-concluded national political conventions of both the Democrat and Republican parties.

Vetter suggested such anti-trade rhetoric was misplaced.

“It’s easy to put angst about other issues into one document,” she said. “It’s a critical time. Agriculture stands out as the big winner (in the TPP). Globalization is not going away. TPP is our opportunity to shape it. TPP is the highest standard trade agreement ever negotiated. Why wouldn’t we support it?”

Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, a member of several Senate committees — including Banking, Housing and Urban Development; Budget; Environment and Public Works; Indian Affairs; and Finance — and co-chair of the Senate Sweetener Caucus, was less optimistic.

“The path forward on TPP is murky at best,” Crapo said. “The election complicates it.”

Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and trade policy for the National Milk Producers Federation, said the dairy industry was supportive of the TPP, even if it wasn’t totally satisfied with it. The agreement faced a “very uphill road,” he said, and needed additional support from Democrats in Congress.

Also commenting on the TPP, Don Phillips, trade adviser for the American Sugar Alliance, said its passage “looks pretty bleak to me; it’s facing a tough battle.” He agreed the lame duck session of Congress was the TPP’s “only chance to pass.”

On other trade issues, speakers noted that the 28-nation Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) has become complicated by the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

“We have to decide what it means not to have the UK at the table,” Vetter said. “But it doesn’t change our commitment to move forward with the agreement.” The United States is committed to complete negotiations by the end of the year, she said.

Agriculture will be “politically difficult” in the T-TIP negotiations and will require “significant political will,” Vetter said. “We’ll see if the EU has the ability to meet us half way.”

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