Negotiations between the U.S. and Japan in the Trans Pacific Partnerships will not allow for any total product exclusions, including sensitive ones, shared the nominee for the U.S. Trade Representative chief agricultural negotiator position.
Nominee Darci Vetter said before the Senate Finance Committee during a nomination hearing May 8 that she’s been actively involved in ongoing negotiations with Japan and they are currently picking up pace. She said negotiators are working closely with Japan, stakeholders and members of Congress to identify what the best landing zones will be to provide the most ambitious trade deal possible.
Vetter said the goal remains seeking tariff elimination on all goods with a goal of working with trading partners on going line-by-line to provide the best and fullest market access agreement possible for all of agriculture.
The United States never has agreed to allow a trading partner to exempt as many tariff lines as Japan is requesting – 586. In the 17 free trade agreements the United States has concluded since 2000, 233 tariff lines total have been exempted from having their tariffs go to zero.
She also recognized that while tariff barriers have gone down, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures have gone up. “If confirmed, I will make sure we have a strong SPS agenda in these trade agreements,” she added. It’s been clear since the outset of TPP and talks with the European Union that the U.S. would be seeking a strong SPS chapter.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) also stressed the importance of intellectual property rights, and Vetter outlined three specific areas where it will need to be addressed. The first is enforcing strong trademarks for U.S. brands which have become known as a mark for high quality and food safety.
The next is geographic indications, which the U.S. and EU have difference of views, Vetter explains. “We need to work together to make sure for example that U.S. dairy manufacturers have the opportunity to sell products under generic names,” she said.
She also discussed the need to protect patents of biotechnology and nanotechnology, which provide a critical tool in developing the next generation of agricultural products. While at USDA she’s been an advocate for biotechnology and said she’ll continue to encourage science-based decision making processes.
Vetter received high praise from committee members. Vetter, grew up on a farm in Nebraska that the family still operates, has an impressive background, including first working on agricultural trade issues at the U.S. Trade Representative, then at the Senate Finance Committee and now at USDA.
Senate Finance chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) said, “Darci is the right person at the right time.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) said during his time as secretary Vetter aided in a successful partnership between USTR and USDA, and he’s confident she’ll once again be a ‘bridge builder and great asset to USTR and to U.S. agriculture in general.”
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and also a member of the Finance Committee, said Vetter was a “fierce advocate for farmers and ranchers.”
A total of 97 farm and food organizations endorsed Vetter’s nomination. The final nomination is not expected to meet any hurdles on the Senate floor.