HOPES ran high that an agreement would be reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during a ministerial meeting in Hawaii at the end of July, but negotiators for the 12 TPP countries adjourned with major issues still outstanding and the way forward uncertain.
A joint statement from the trade ministers expressed optimism, claiming that significant progress had been made and pledging that work would continue.
Among the unresolved matters, however, are tough issues such as market access for automobiles and dairy products, as well as the data exclusivity period for biologic drugs, a key intellectual property question.
Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of congressional relations, noted that the dairy issues focus on the U.S. and New Zealand's market access requests for Canada and Japan.
"Everybody has to work together and do things in concert to make this work," he explained. "Canada wasn't quite ready to make enough of an offer that would satisfy New Zealand and the U.S. for increased market access."
Floyd Gaibler, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy and biotechnology, said the failure to reach a TPP agreement is a concern because the "political clock is ticking." He added that Canada's election campaign is already underway, and the U.S. will be in full campaign mode by the beginning of next year.
"Given the mandatory time periods for public and congressional review, it will now be very difficult for Congress to vote this year on a TPP deal, even if the remaining issues are settled quickly. Meanwhile, the politics of ratification get more polarized and more gridlocked every day as the elections draw nearer," Gaibler said.
No date has been set yet for a resumption of TPP talks, although the pending agreement is likely to be top-of-mind at another ministerial this month in connection with the Aug. 22-25 Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where some TPP countries will be represented, including the U.S.
Salmonsen said the President must give Congress at least a 90-day notice of his intention to enter into a final TPP agreement. Congress would have to be notified by early September to get a bill potentially considered before the end of this year, and that looks less likely every day. Congress already has a busy fall schedule.
Salmonsen said the final TPP agreement also has to be one that can win approval. "With these tough issues, there's still plenty to do," he said.