Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is continuing his push for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)and specifically for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. Over the weekend, Vilsack spoke to Business Forward, an organization of US small businessmen, stressing that passage of Trade Promotion Authority by Congress is vital to secure an Asian trade deal that is good for agriculture and for all the US economy. He said 30% of all US agricultural sales are export related, “Often times the level of export sales is equal to the amount of net farm income the agricultural community realized from year to year. The bottom line is that US exports are critically important to the farm economy and to the US economy.”
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would lower import tariffs on US farm products that, in some cases, are as high as 200%. He said, in addition, this agreement will put the US in a leadership role in Asian trade but, without it, China will step in and dictate the rules, “The US must decide if we are going to be an influence in Asian trade or cede that opportunity to China.” He added that China is already negotiating an all Asia trade deal with other Pacific rim nations, “This all Asia agreement will not lower tariffs on US products and will not be concerned about labor standards, intellectual property rights, or the environment.”
The TPA bill is currently on Capitol Hill is before the Senate Finance Committee where the strongest opposition comes, ironically, from the President’s own party. Vilsack said TPA needs to be passed by Congress by the end of 2015. Senate aides have circulated a tentative date of mid-April for advancing “fast-track” trade legislation in the recognition that Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden have to move quickly to finalize a deal on the bill or risk losing their chance to get it passed by the end of the spring session, several lobbyists and congressional sources have told POLITICO.
Negotiations between Hatch (R-UT) who chairs the committee, its ranking member Wyden (D-OR), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) are taking place at the staff level over the spring congressional break and “continue to make progress,” Hatch spokesman Julia Lawless said, confirming only that the senator hopes to move legislation “this spring.” Wyden has sought to include provisions to give Congress more power and oversight over the fast-tracking of trade deals.