HOUSE Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and other members of the committee met with U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman last Wednesday in an executive briefing to discuss the status of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and other trade issues and their impact on the agriculture sector. They focused primarily on market access for agricultural commodities, particularly for rice, dairy and sugar.
A high-standard trade agreement is one step closer to completion, USTR said in a status update.
"Recognizing that, in any trade negotiation, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, we made significant progress at the ministerial toward developing a package that we expected to be acceptable to all TPP countries, pending the resolution of a limited number of outstanding issues," USTR said.
Many stakeholders had high expectations that the TPP talks would close at the ministerial meeting in Hawaii in late July, but trade ministers were unable to resolve differences on three key issues, including dairy market access.
Conaway noted that while nearly every industry in America can benefit from expanding exports, agriculture is particularly sensitive to trade negotiations. After a record-setting $152.3 billion in U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal 2014, estimates for 2015 are projected to decrease 8% to $139.5 billion.
"With the outlook for exports softening, committee members stressed the importance of expanding opportunities for trade abroad," Conaway said of the meeting.
"While I applaud USTR for their work, I am concerned about a lack of progress on market access for dairy and rice, along with last-minute calls for additional sugar imports that could undermine U.S. sugar policy," Conaway added.
Representatives from the dairy, sugar and rice industries met for a briefing with House Agriculture Committee members and their staff the day prior.
Dairy farmers in Canada — and, to a lesser extent, Japan — don't want new competition from the U.S. National Milk Producers Federation president and chief executive officer Jim Mulhern said it's known that New Zealand, a powerhouse in world dairy trade, will want more access in a final TPP deal, but the U.S. seeks a balanced access outcome.
"The U.S. cannot be the dumping ground — the market of last resort — to mop up the excess when world markets are overburdened," he said.
Conaway said he remains hopeful that Froman and his team will be able to resolve these issues and bring TPP to a successful conclusion.