US eyes food ex­ports to grow­ing Asia un­der TPP

Obama de­fends TPP se­crecy, says now is chance for de­bate

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

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

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