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Published February 21, 2014, 09:45 AM

US trade rep says TPP key to Congress agreeing to pass TPA

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman signaled late Thursday that the Obama administration plans to convince Congress to pass trade promotion authority by negotiating such a strong Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that members will want to give the administration the authority to finish it.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman signaled late Thursday that the Obama administration plans to convince Congress to pass trade promotion authority by negotiating such a strong Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that members will want to give the administration the authority to finish it.

“We’ll have the votes, provided we bring back a good agreement. Our focus now is to bring back a good agreement including in agriculture,” Froman said in the speech to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Outlook Forum dinner shortly before he took off for a negotiating session in Singapore.

Asked about how to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to support trade promotion authority, Froman said he is spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill with both parties “laying the foundation for what we hope will be broad bipartisan support.”

He noted that the administration was pleased with the bill that former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced. But he understands that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who took over the chairmanship of Finance after Baucus became ambassador to China, “will want to take time to work with his members” on the issue.

Froman added that Congress “has recognized the infeasibility” of designating more than 500 people — the membership of the House and Senate — as trade negotiators.

He emphasized the administration’s understanding of the importance of agriculture in the negotiations over TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

“Increasing ag trade is important to the entire U.S. economy,” Froman said.

“There is a whole ecosystem that grows up around agricultural exports,” he said, noting that farmers need everything from seeds and feed to fuel, fertilizer, tractors, trucks and farm equipment, and the export sales also result in the use of ports, containers and computer and financial services.

Froman appealed to the agricultural audience to urge Congress to grant President Barack Obama the trade promotion authority he needs to assure leaders of other countries that Congress will vote it up or down rather than try to amend it.

“We need your support … to tell the great stories of American agricultural exports,” he said.

Members of Congress need to hear the stories of individual farmers such as the hazelnut grower in Oregon who wants to export to Hong Kong, the rancher who wants to export beef to Japan, and the New York orchard owner who wants to sell apples in Canada, he said.

Froman also touted the administration’s success in increasing trade. The finalization of the Panama, Korea and Colombian free trade agreements had increased sales, the European Union had agreed to import U.S. beef washed in lactic acid and U.S. hogs and there were reports that Russia has agreed to resume turkey imports, he said.

He also said the administration’s negotiators “understand what it means to negotiate new, meaningful commercial access.”

But he added that “We shouldn’t sugar coat the situation.” American producers, he said, face high tariffs, a World Trade Organization that is “inconsistent” on farm subsidies and regulatory barriers that are not based on science.

“Life is simpler when you plow around the stump,” Froman said, adding that he must have learned that expression from a farmer, but said U.S. negotiators do not have the luxury of taking the easy way.

The U.S., he said, is seeking ambitious disciplines on regulatory practices.

The negotiations “will be challenging but we have never backed down from a challenge,” he said.

Froman also said he agrees with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s rejection of the European Union position that the T-TIP negotiations will not lead to European importation of hormone-fed beef.

“This is a comprehensive negotiation,” he said. “We are going to have to work through this and come up with a balanced outcome.”

He declined, however, to answer a number of questions about the problems such as China’s rejection of U.S. corn shipments, saying those are issues handled by the Agriculture Department.

Froman acknowledged that there are “a number of understandable questions” about the impact of trade on the U.S. economy because there has been a great increase in productivity while there has not been an equal increase in jobs, and there is great concern about inequality. But he said the solutions to those problems are improved infrastructure and education and more free trade.

“I think trade done right is part of the solution, not part of the problem.” Froman said. “We know exports grow jobs and good high paying jobs in the United States.”

Obama’s trade policy, he said, is “not in the past,” but one that would integrate labor and environmental standards.

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