A trade hearing held by the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on trade broke no new ground, but Congress needs to have a constant conversation on trade if Trade Promotion Authority is going to get approved in this Congress.
Losses such as Eric Cantor's and the possible loss by Sen. Thad Cochran in a couple of weeks risk pulling Congress farther away from a legislative body that would adopt TPA in 2015 or 2016. I get the sense that after the mid-terms Congress will just be a glorified encampment of hot air, hostility and malaise in the two final years of the Obama administration leading up to the 2016 primaries.
Nonethess, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stressed the importance of breaking down barriers to ag trade.
"The United States must remain the world's leading agricultural exporter."
Nunes said he was concerned the administration is not holding Japan and Canada to high standards on tariffs. Both countries have pushed to protect domestic agricultural sectors by keeping some tariffs in place.
As Nunes added in his opening statement, Congress must pass TPA "without delay." He added, "If the Administration finishes these negotiations before TPA is granted, it will not get the best deal for our farmers or other exporters. Therefore, I call on the Administration to focus on passing TPA in Congress before completing TPP."
Nunes' ranking member. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., sought somewhat unsuccessfully to push for more talk on further opening markets in Cuba. "In the case of Cuba, our very own government stands in the way."
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Rangel did add that too many countries are using sanitary and phytosanitary measures to keep U.S. products out of their countries. "We need to eliminate bogus food safety laws, but we also need to keep legitimate ones," he said.
Dermot Hayes, an agricultural economics professor from Iowa State University, was excited about the prospects that could from Trans Pacific Partnership talks. The export gains for U.S. food "have the ability to fundamentally transform U.S. agriculture."
Hayes said the Asian trade deal offered an opportunity to create significant jobs in areas such as livestock and dariy products in rural America.
"Unfortunately, Japan has recently hijacked the negotiations," Hayes said. He added, "You can't protect a sector under free trade."
If Japan doesn't offer to reduce tariffs on some protected agricultural products then other countries would ask for the same. "In that sense, then we would lose billions of dollars in trade," he said.
Japan shouldhave to comply with the same rules as other countries. "The beef industry has certainly put pressure on Japan for tariff elimination."
Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and a rancher from Victoria Texas, said Japan should have to comply with the same rules as other countries. "The beef industry has certainly put pressure on Japan for tariff elimination," he said.
McCan also said he believes Japan desperately wants to stay part of the TPP talks.
North of the border on Wednesday, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz didn't appear to be in a mood to further open the country's protected agricultural markets to more U.S. products. Reuters quoted Ritz saying the U.S. was acting like a "schoolyard bully."
Ritz told Reuters Canada isn't planning to offer more market access for dairy, egg and poultry. While U.S. dairy producers are demanding more access, Ritz said, "Politically, it's kryptonite."
How about if we agree to put a country-of-origin label on those dairy products?
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
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