22 November 2015 - I’m Watching Paint Dry

How many times over the past four decades have you heard me say “This takes longer than watching paint dry”? I use that term when I talk about covering trade negotiations in the agricultural community around the world.

The latest example is happening right now. It is the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The agreement involves 12 Pacific Rim countries, accounting for 40% of the world’s economy. Finally, last month, the negotiators reached an agreement. The countries involved are Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.

How long did it take to hammer out the details and reach an agreement? It took 8 years to get to this point and it is not over yet. Now the Trans-Pacific Partnership must be ratified by the governments of the 12 countries. Thus, it goes back to the Congress, Parliament, or whatever governing body, for approval before it becomes a reality. Some trade experts say that could take another two years and while President Obama has been a strong supporter of the agreement, it may not happen before his term in the White House ends.

Agricultural producers in the United States have been strong supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it would lower or eliminate some tariffs and provide more access for American agricultural products. It would also mean opening our borders to goods from other countries because if products don’t move both ways, it is not trade. As one trade negotiator put it…“in this global economy, if you are not involved in a trade agreement, you are on the outside looking in. There is no free trade in the world any more, all we want is fair trade.”

Opposition to the TPP is growing on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle, and while Congress can only vote yes or no (under “fast track” authority, it cannot make changes to the language), the leadership could delay debate and a vote for months or even years. I’m sure many members up for election would like to delay it until after November next year.

Speaking of trade, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is racking up his airline miles this month. The Secretary made the first official USDA trip to Cuba since the Cuban Embargo was imposed in 1961 to meet with Cuban government officials. The Secretary would like to see a USDA office established in Havana now to prepare for the resumption of trade between the two countries.

And then the weekend before Thanksgiving, he flew to Guangzhou, China as part of a U.S. mission to participate in an annual forum to discuss economic issues and trade with Chinese officials. One of his main missions is to convince China to lift the import ban placed on U.S. poultry after last spring’s outbreak of Bird Flu in this country. I certainly support the Secretary on his Cuba and China missions and wish him safe travels.

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