Obama highlights trade, climate change in State of the Union

In final address, President Obama urges for TPP passage, end of Cuba embargo and more focus on climate change solutions.

Some familiar subjects again surfaced in this year’s State of the Union address from President Obama as he highlighted the need for passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and need to address global issues such as climate change.

He noted that the TPP agreement opens up markets, protects workers and the environment, and advances American leadership in Asia.

“With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do. You want to show our strength in this new century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it. It's the right thing to do,” he said.

In a call Wednesday afternoon after the speech, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urged small business leaders to continually tell their stories of the benefits that can be realized under TPP. Vilsack said the timing of TPP passage it “critically important” and reiterated that member countries of the TPP discussions are watching for American leadership on getting it pass the finish line.

American Soybean Assn. president Richard Wilkins said the commitment of this administration to trade is something that ASA has appreciated at every turn, and the President's final State of the Union address shows that course will continue throughout the year.

"We understand that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to be a heavy lift this year, but we are excited to continue our press to see it passed by our Congress and ratified. The promise of the TPP for soybean farmers is too great to accept anything less, and we are very encouraged to hear the president continue his focus on the TPP in the year to come,” Wilkins said.

"Soy benefits from the TPP in three ways: first, through in increase in the direct export of soybeans and soy products to the 11 TPP nations, which already account for $5.4 billion in annual soy exports. Second and perhaps more importantly, the TPP will significantly expand meat exports to the region, which drives demand for soy meal as livestock feed here in the U.S. Finally, the TPP will foster long-term demand through the further development of the emerging economies within the region,” Wilkins added.

Cuba

Obama also took the opportunity to call for continued changes in regard to Cuba policy where a self-imposed embargo has limited the ability to sell to the island nation’s 11 million people just 90 miles from American shoes. “Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America,” he said.

The administration has taken steps to restore diplomatic relations and tried to reopen the door to travel and commerce. Vilsack said Cuba is an opportunity for the U.S. to “retake an agricultural priority and trading area” where the U.S. used to dominate in exports. Cuba imports 80% of its foods and many products such as poultry, rice and many others could see U.S. imports increase significantly because of the competitive closeness, especially when compared to the European Union or South America, Vilsack said.

“So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo,” Obama told members of Congress.

Climate change

Obama also focused on how the nation needs to reignite the spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges including climate change. He also said that climate change is just one of the many issues where U.S. security is linked to the rest of the world.

Obama said in his speech, “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.”

National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson welcomed the focus on climate change. “We are greatly appreciative of the Administration’s focus on climate change,” said Johnson. “Their efforts to help mitigate climate change will give family farmers and ranchers a better shot at ensuring global food security. Family farmers and ranchers can employ numerous practices that reduce or sequester carbon when given the correct incentives,” he added.

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