US eyes food exports to growing Asia under TPP
Obama defends TPP secrecy, says now is chance for debate
TOKYO: US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended yesterday a recently agreed-to 12nation Pacific trade pact, saying the Trans-Pacific Partnership would provide a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the region while also opening up promising Asian markets with their burgeoning middle class.
Vilsack told The Associated Press in an interview that many Asian countries are concerned about the rise of Chinese power, “and whether or not it’s disproportionate, and whether or not there needs to be a balance.” The trade agreement, he said, “creates the kind of coalition of nations, if you will, that provides that balance.”
Vilsack, who met with Japanese government officials, students and young farmers, is en route to China to take part in annual US-China trade talks in Guangzhou from today to Monday. The wide-ranging trade agreement, known as TPP, faces a tough ratification battle in the US.
Congress. Farmers in Japan also worry about the impact of lowering or eliminating tariffs on gricultural imports. Other signatories include Canada, Mexico, Australia and Vietnam, but not China.
The pact would help American beef producers and others tap into a growing population of Asian consumers who are demanding high-end, safe food products, Vilsack said. “There is an expanding market opportunity in Asia, and particularly the middle class consumers, which I think plays to the strengths of any country that can produce high value-added items,” he said.
That includes Japan as well as the US, he added, while acknowledging the unease some farmers feel. “I had a fruit plate today at the hotel where I’m staying that was one of the best meals that I have ever eaten,” he said. “And I will tell you that if the rest of the world could see that fruit plate in their kitchens, and in their restaurants, and in their homes, I guarantee you that there’s a market opportunity there.”
Besides Japan, Vilsack cited Vietnam and Malaysia as markets where TPP tariff reductions would help US exporters of meat, nuts and other products.
Japan is the fourth largest market for US agricultural exports, importing $13.2 billion-worth in 2014. The TPP countries, led by Canada and Mexico, account for 42 percent of US agricultural exports.
US President Barack Obama launched a defense yesterday of a signature Pacific trade pact kept largely under wraps and said the public would get its say before legislators in each country debate the full details. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a “mega-regional accord” covering four-tenths of global GDP, was so complex it would not have materialized if all interest groups were involved in the protracted talks, he said.
“If you are negotiating with 12 countries and there’s no space for everyone to agree on the deal ... then it would never get done,” Obama said during a town hall at a Kuala Lumpur University.
“The nature of the trade agreement is so many interests are involved, so what we’ve done instead is close the initial deal, it’s subject to review .... each country then has to ratify and it’s subject to the legislatures.”
Obama was responding to a question from a Malaysian youth who said the TPP was elitist and excluded most voices. Barring occasional leaks, details of the TPP have been kept secret during the more than five years of negotiations, angering those affected by its broad implications.
“I still have to get it past Congress,” Obama added. “I believe it’s a good deal and we’ll get it done, but there’s no guarantee.”
The pact could come up against some opposition in Washington. Obama has long championed the deal but needs to muster support among moderates to ensure ratification. He recently said it would allow the United States to “write the rules of the road” for 21st century trade, but warned: “If America doesn’t write those rules, then countries like China will.”
The pact covers countries from Japan, Canada and Australia to Mexico, Vietnam and Malaysia and would slash tariffs between them and set common standards on issues ranging from workers’ rights to intellectual property protection.
Obama used the US pharmaceutical industry as an example of resistance and how concessions needed to be made. “We were very specific in the chapter to say that we have to protect generics for low income persons,” he said.
“Here’s proof that this wasn’t just some giveaway to the drugs companies. Right now a lot of drugs companies in the United States are mad at me because they said ‘how come we didn’t get more protection?’
“Well, part of our job is to promote the US drug industry but part of our job is also to be good partners with countries that have people who are sick.” — Agencies
TOKYO: US Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack speaks during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo yesterday. Wilsack said a recently agreed-to 12-nation Pacific trade pact would provide a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the region while also opening up promising Asian markets and their burgeoning middle class. —AP