Representatives of ag groups told House Ag Committee lawmakers Wednesday that Trade Promotion Authority will be key to ensuring export growth and that the U.S. is in the driver's seat when it comes to fair, science-based trade agreements.
Panelists discussing ag trade at the ag committee's hearing included Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau president; Dr. Howard Hill, National Pork Producers Council president; Pet Kappelman, National Milk Producers Federation trade committee chairman; and Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association senior vice president.
The TPA allows Congress only an up-or-down vote on trade agreements, which some ag groups and lawmakers say would provide trading partners with certainty that agreed-upon trade deals will not be changed.
In opening statements, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said TPA is critical in showing trade partners that the U.S. is serious about negotiating a fair deal.
"At the end of the day, even with TPA in place, it is Congress who decides if trade agreements will be ratified," Conaway explained, addressing concerns among some that the TPA curbs Congress' authority. "But," he said," passing TPA is an essential part of getting to that point."
According to NPPC's Hill, the TPA could pave the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a12-country trade deal in final stages of negotiations. NPPC has called that deal the "most significant commercial opportunity ever for U.S. pork producers," and says it could generate about 10,000 pork industry jobs.
Kappelman explained that the dairy industry – even without the help of key trade agreements – is exporting more of what's produced in the U.S. than ever before. He estimated that about one days' worth of U.S. milk production per week is exported.
He said allowing TPA puts the United States in a key position to ensure, essentially, that the U.S. gets what it needs.
"When we did the free trade agreement with Korea, we were put in the driver's seat because we were first," Kappelman said. "As we are standing still and not signing those agreements, we're put in a less advantageous position."
AFBF's Stallman made a similar point, echoing the idea that avoiding TPA may indicate to potential trading partners that the U.S. isn't ready to approve a deal, even if it's agreed upon in trade negotiations.
"We may be engaged in negotiations, but completing successful negotiations will be extremely difficult, if not impossible without having TPA," Stallman said. "The other countries are going to believe we're not serious about a trade agenda."