U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will wrap up meetings in Singapore Tuesday regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that could bring big benefits to agriculture.
Froman, who left for the meetings late last week, said negotiators have been working hard to resolve differences since the last meeting in December. The TPP encompasses United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Together, the countries account for nearly 40% of global GDP.
During the December meetings, the USTR said important advances were made and potential "landing zones" were identified for the majority of key outstanding issues in the TPP text.
"We expect to make meaningful progress in Singapore this month," Froman said late last week, just ahead of the meetings. "Negotiators have been working hard and ministers have been engaging on outstanding issues since their productive meetings in December."
Several of those outstanding issues involve agriculture, and one in particular – Japan's demands – has been a sticking point for grain and livestock groups.
The American Soybean Association, part of a larger group that is watching the negotiations closely, said Japan's request that 586 tariff lines be exempt from tariff elimination would set a dangerous precedent for future trade agreements, if agreed to.
"Japan, who is the newest member of the TPP negotiations, has requested special protections for numerous agricultural commodities," ASA President Ray Gaesser said Friday. "These protections, which include exemptions for meat and certain grain commodities among others, would not only weaken the TPP agreement, but also hamper the development of agreements with new partners by setting a dangerous precedent allowing countries to pick and choose those parts of an agreement that work for them.
"It is not a reciprocal or mutually-beneficial approach to trade, and we encourage the U.S. and other TPP nations to reject the Japanese demand to exclude products from eventual liberalization," he said.
Several U.S. Senators signed on to a letter Friday, expressing similar concerns with Japan's requests. Their letter was addressed to Trade Representative Froman.
took the opportunity to reiterate the association's key priorities for the discussions, as well as significant market access concerns that ASA has regarding the ongoing negotiations with Japan, Canada, and other Pacific-Rim nations. ASA President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser issued the following statement:
The senators noted in their letter that, if Japan is allowed to claim exceptions for sensitive products, other TPP countries would expect to do the same, costing U.S. jobs and export revenue.
Despite concern about Japan's role in the discussion, Gaesser noted that the deal overall could be a benefit to ag.
"We are encouraged at the overall progress and prospects presented by the TPP. This agreement is something that we, the growers of America's largest agricultural export, have been behind since day one," he said.
Gaesser explained that the agreement encompasses 11 partners that represent a growing market for U.S. soy, and combine to account for more than $27 trillion in GDP. Gaesser concluded that ASA remains supportive of the TPP and optimistic that it can become a vehicle for increased soybean and meat trade with key partners.
"If constructed and enacted in the right way, the TPP can be a real game-changer for American soybean farmers and our livestock customers," he said.