Senate advances Trade Promotion Authority

Agricultural groups praise Senate for taking next step in positioning TPP for the end game.

After a week of debate on the floor, Friday night the Senate approved by a vote of 62-37 its Trade Promotion Authority legislation which gives the President negotiating authority when working on trade agreements.

TPA is an important trade tool that effectively combines Congress’s authority to regulate foreign commerce alongside the president’s authority to negotiate treaties. It reinforces the role of Congress to set negotiation priorities and requires the president to consult extensively with legislators throughout the entire process.

A planned meeting of the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)trade ministers during next week was put off. Reports indicated without passage of TPA in the United States, end game negotiations on TPP cannot continue.

Many agricultural groups were united in their praise for the passage in the Senate and also urged the House to swiftly follow suit to allow for expanded market access for U.S. agricultural products.

A statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that over 70 organizations representing America’s farmers and ranchers and past secretaries of agriculture in both parties dating back to the Carter Administration all supported Trade Promotion Authority because export sales are vital to U.S. agriculture. Last year, agricultural exports totaled more than $150 billion and for many of our products, foreign markets represent half or more of total sales. Those exports supported approximately 1 million U.S. jobs last year.

Wade Cowan, president of the American Soybean Assn., said that since 2007 growers’ ability to maximize new market access for domestic products has been hampered by the absence of TPA. “In that time, despite valiant efforts by USTR, we haven’t been able to be as aggressive in crafting new agreements as our competitors in South America, which have caught up, in some cases, eclipsed us.”

“Congressional support is critical to breaking down trade barriers and completing ambitious new trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPA streamlines negotiations and strengthens our position at the bargaining table,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Joel Newman, president and chief executive officer of the American Feed Industry Assn., said without enactment of TPA, U.S. negotiators will continue to lack the ability and leverage needed to negotiate successful free trade agreements. “The passage of a sound TPA bill is increasingly important to AFIA and the U.S. feed industry as U.S. Trade Representative negotiators near conclusion of discussions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” Newman said.

Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., said the U.S. market is already one of the most open markets in the world, and to continue to grow demand for U.S. beef, the United States must continue to negotiate tariff elimination worldwide.

The House is expected to take up its TPA version in June where it is also expected to encounter a close battle for votes.

Vilsack noted, “Standing still is not an option. Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and others barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will. U.S. agriculture's interests are best served by ensuring America is at the table with strong negotiating authority."

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