As U.S. trade officials enter into more talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership this week, ag groups are telling Congress that the trade deal will have difficulty moving forward without the passage of Trade Promotion Authority.
The TPA, which limits Congress' ability to add amendments to key trade deals, hasn't been in effect since 2007. Also called "fast-track," it only allows Congress to take an up-or-down vote on such trade deals.
Groups supporting TPA say it provides assurance to U.S. trading partners that Congress will not be able to significantly change agreed-upon language in key deals. While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could eventually be a beneficiary of TPA, ag groups are focusing on the TPP.
"Over 12 million American jobs depend on exports, and with the renewal of TPA, valuable free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership can move forward," the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said Monday. The group fears that the United States' competitors could have a leg up on market share in growing economies.
"Unless the United States takes a similar aggressive approach to secure free trade agreements, we will lose market share; not due to the quality of our products, but because our products will be more expensive due to import tariffs," NCBA President Bob McCan said in a statement.
According to D.C. news outlet The Hill, a group of Democrats has gathered in opposition of TPA on the grounds that trade deals which may move forward under TPA can have negative effects on the U.S. middle class.
That's a sentiment echoed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said he had "been suspect my entire career in Congress of these trade agreements," The Hill reported.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, however, is reportedly in talks with Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to work up improvements to the TPA that may make it more palatable for Congress.
Hatch said he aims to introduce a "bipartisan, bicameral bill in this Congress that we can move in short order," The Hill reported.
The President also urged cooperation in passing the TPA in his State of the Union address last Tuesday. Many key farm groups were pleased with his support.
"While NPPC is reserving judgment on a final TPP agreement, we believe it is imperative that Congress approve TPA as a signal to our trading partners that the U.S. is ready to finalize an agreement that expands U.S. trade and generates U.S. jobs, the National Pork Producers Council said Monday.
According to NPPC, trade has the ability to transform industries. As a result of trade agreements, pork exports increased 1550% in value and 1268% in volume since 1989, the year the U.S. implemented the FTA with Canada.
"Pork producers and U.S. agriculture are dependent on export markets, so NPPC is going to fight tooth and nail to get TPA passed," NPPC President Howard Hill said in a released statement.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, too, said agriculture could have a lot to gain with the passage of TPA and new trade agreements.
"New trade agreements that help level the playing field for agriculture will build on the success we've seen in the agricultural economy since 2009 and help producers create more new jobs across the country. What makes the agricultural economy stronger makes our entire nation's economy stronger," Vilsack said in a statement Monday.
"It is imperative that Congress act on Trade Promotion Authority early this year," he added.
The United States is negotiating TPP with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Canada and Mexico.
Agricultural exports last fiscal year reached $152.5 billion, the highest level on record, according to USDA. Those exports supported an estimated one million jobs.