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Agweek in D.C.: Darci Vetter talks up Trans-Pacific Partnership

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As America's chief agricultural negotiator, Darci Vetter has a lot on her plate. But she has no doubt about her priority. "At the top of our list is (Trans-Pacific Partnership)," she said. "It's an incredibly important deal for U.

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Darci Vetter, U.S. chief agricultural negotiator, talks with members of North American Agricultural Journalists during the organization's recent annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As America’s chief agricultural negotiator, Darci Vetter has a lot on her plate. But she has no doubt about her priority.

“At the top of our list is (Trans-Pacific Partnership),” she said. “It’s an incredibly important deal for U.S. agriculture. “

Vetter spoke recently to members of North American Agricultural Journalists during the organization’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Vetter, who grew up on a family farm in Nebraska, has the rank of Ambassador at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. She’s responsible for bilateral and multilateral negotiations and policy coordination regarding agricultural trade.

Many U.S. farm groups, as well as the Obama administration, want quick passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Countries. The TPP, as it’s often called, would reduce foreign tariffs on U.S. ag products and make them more affordable for overseas buyers.

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“We got 12 countries together, who were willing to put every product on the table, without exception, and create new market access,” Vetter said.

Most of the other 11 countries would need to make much bigger changes under TPP than the U.S., she said.

TPP has been approved by negotiators from the 12 TPP countries, but Congress hasn’t ratified it.

Countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently account for 42 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports, totaling about $63 billion, USDA says.

Vetter said TPP would boost sales of “high-quality, high-value” U.S. food to countries such as Japan. Exports to countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, which have fast-growing populations and middle classes, would benefit, too, she said.

Other major food exporters are gaining trade concessions with some of these countries, putting U.S. producers at a disadvantage, Vetter said.

“The longer we wait to pass TPP, the further we fall behind,” she said.

TPP would add “more reliance on science-based decision-making” in the foreign restrictions placed on U.S. ag exports, which also would benefit American producers, she said.

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Some U.S. critics of TPP argue that it would hurt family farmers, benefitting primarily big farm operations.

But that’s “a difficult argument to make,” Vetter said.

All U.S. farmers, regardless of the size of their operation, benefit when more of the products they grow is exported, she said.

Lame duck session

By most accounts, the upcoming presidential and Congressional elections complicate efforts to pass TPP. Vetter said, “We have to make sure members of Congress understand what’s in the agreement.”

Some political observers think TPP’s best chance to win Congressional approval is in a “lame duck session,” or one that’s held during election years after votes are cast in November. Typically, these sessions are used to tackle controversial issues that Congress didn’t get to before leaving to campaign for reelection.

Vetter was uncertain when Congress might act. What is clear, however, is TPP’s importance, she said.

“Withdrawing from the global economy is not an option,” she said. “We couldn’t if we wanted to.”

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