U.S. Trade Ambassador Makes Case In Little Rock For Controversial TPP Trade Pact

U.S. Trade Representative Darci Vetter speaking Wednesday at the Farm Policy Summit in Little Rock.
Credit Arkansas Farm Bureau web stream

Darci Vetter, one of the Obama administration’s key negotiators for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, is making her case in Arkansas for the necessity of getting congressional approval of the controversial trade pact by the end of 2016.

Vetter, chief Agriculture Negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, outlined pros and cons of the 12-nation trade deal and why she believed it is important.

She aired her views at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law during a 90-minute presentation and question-and-answer session. She also spoke Wednesday at the Arkansas Farm Policy Summit being held in Little Rock.

Aided by detailed statistics, fact sheets and financial information, Vetter told the law school students and others attending the event, including U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, that the TPP pact has the opportunity to change the way the U.S. does business in agriculture on a much large scale.

In early October, trade ministers from the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam met in Atlanta and concluded round-the-clock negotiations for the TPP, which the USDA said accounted for 42% of U.S. agricultural exports worth $63 billion to the America.

Vetter reiterated that point at the UALR law school, saying that countries that met at the table in Atlanta last fall represented more than 40% percent of the world’s Gross World Product, the combined gross national production of all the countries across the globe.

“It’s the highest standard trade agreement in history, that being both the level of tariff or trade liberalization and reduction of tariff barriers, but also the highest standard of rules we negotiated in a trade agreement,” Vetter said matter-of-factly. “If you think about TPP and all the products that the (U.S..) gains can access to, it is essentially like giving a tax cut on 18,000 different tariff lines and all these products for U.S. goods going overseas.”

Vetter said for U.S. farmer and ranchers, specifically mentioning Arkansas products such as rice, meat and chicken, and soybeans, the trade agreement with the 12 Asian countries will open up access to two-thirds of the world’s growing middle class. She said the TPP would not only open new international markets to Arkansas and U.S. goods but would also have the effect of spreading American political values and presence in 12 countries who have signed the trade pact.

“The TPP is more than an economic agreement, it is a core part of our presence in Asia-Pacific and our foreign policy as well, and it is really cornerstone of the (U.S.) pivot to one of the most dynamic regions of the world, both economically and politically,” said the U.S. trade ambassador.

Vetter added: “This agreement covers every good and service from the United States, not just agriculture ones, but our manufacturing economy as well as our service providers.”

In continuing her pitch, the U.S. trade liaison also said the biggest trade deal since the NAFTA will provide access to a range of new markets – from high-value economies like Japan and Canada to other burgeoning Asian markets like Vietnam and Malaysia where the fast-growing middle class will become major consumers over the next decade. Vetter said that trend will be a boon for U.S. agricultural products because the first thing that citizens change when they go from a developing to a consumer-oriented economy is the products they consume.

“The reason that is so important for U.S. agriculture is when you go from a subsistence lifestyle to joining the middle class, the first thing you change is the way you eat,” she said. “You are no longer worried about the number of calories, so you start making decisions based on the quality of those calories, and particularly there is a focus on consuming more protein – and that is good news to U.S. agriculture.”

Later on in her presentation, Vetter also made the case that if Congress failed to ratify the controversial trade pact by the end of the year it would dramatically impact the nation’s agriculture sector and the U.S. economy negatively as a whole.

“So, what happens if we don’t?” Vetter asked the law school class rhetorically concerning passage of the trade agreement. “The Farm Bureau estimates $5.8 billion in additional cash receipts every year from TPP … we would forego if failed to pass this agreement.”

Citing a plethora of financial statistics, fact sheets and data that the U.S. Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Commerce and other federal agencies and pro-trade research groups have pushed out to the media over the past several months, Vetter said the total annual impact to the U.S. economy would be $94 billion a year, or about $700 annually per U.S. household.

After her presentation, Vetter was joined on the podium by Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola who shared several stories, anecdotes and economic data to express his support for the already-negotiated TPP deal. The mayor mentioned he was in Atlanta with a national mayoral group in October 2015 to speak in support of Vetter and other U.S. negotiators for the TPP agreement.

For the next hour during a question-and-answer session at the Little Rock law school, Vetter didn’t shy away from several difficult questions from audience members who offered mixed or negative view of the trade agreement, including in Arkansas rice farmer who said he drove to Little Rock to hear the U.S. trade ambassador speak because of his concerns that the trade agreement will give Asian rice farmers a competitive advantage in markets where they now export.

The U.S. trade negotiator also provided detailed explanations on the legal framework of the 6,000-page trade deal, encouraging members of the audience several times to read portions of the document and downplayed some of the “myths” circulating about parts of the trade pact that will undermine U.S. sovereignty and only benefit large corporations.

After the event, a very interested Congressman Hill sitting quietly at the back of the audience said he and other congressional officials are still trying to decipher and get a full understanding of the complex trade pact.

“We are going to spend the next few weeks trying to get through the ‘million words and 6,000 pages,’ and (we) are just now hearing from different business, consumer and labor groups around the country, so the next phase is going to be thorough due diligence on the part of Congress and… all the interested parties.”

In the state’s agriculture and farming community, Hill admitted he is hearing encouraging remarks on the TPP from the poultry and beef industry, but said the response from rice producers has been mixed.

“Rice is important, so that is an area that I think we need to study the agreement quite carefully.”

More than a year ago, Hill voted to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that would put the TPP and new trade agreements on the fast track for congressional consideration. In November, after the full text of the TPP trade deal was released to Congress, Hill said he looked forward to “completely reviewing the text and hearing from constituents throughout this process.”

Opposition to the TPP comes from powerful political quarters. The AFL-CIO is opposing it and actively lobbying Congress to reject the deal.

“The final TPP will not create jobs, protect the environment or ensure safe imports. Rather, it appears modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a free trade agreement that boosts global corporate profits while leaving working families behind,” the AFL-CIO noted.

Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group, also opposes the deal.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes special protections for corporations that offshore American jobs to low-wage countries. The TPP would not only replicate, but actually expand, the North American Free Trade Agreement’s extraordinary privileges for firms that relocate abroad, and eliminate many of the usual risks that make firms think twice about moving to low-wage countries.”