Vilsack: Growers to like trade pact, when they see it

Published online: Oct 15, 2015 News
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MOUNT VERNON, Wash.—The Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit U.S. growers by prying open foreign markets and putting “immense pressure” on China to match America’s high standards, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday at a forum hosted by Washington State University.

“I’m confident in saying American agriculture is a beneficiary of this agreement,” Vilsack told about 200 people crowded into a conference room at WSU’s research center in the crop-diverse Skagit Valley.

Vilsack touted the TPP during a 80-minute question-and-answer session moderated by WSU Acting President Dan Bernardo.

Vilsak was joined on stage by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, who broke from most House Democrats and voted in June to put TPP to an up-or-down vote in Congress.

The 12-nation pact runs 1,000 pages and will be made public in 20 to 25 days, said Vilsack, who’s been touring the country to promote the deal.

China is not part of the agreement, though other leading and emerging Pacific Rim countries are. Vilsack said TPP would balance China’s regional influence and over time lean on China to adopt the pact’s free-trade norms.

Pending the release of TPP’s text, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has presented charts broadly summarizing how tariffs will be reduced or eliminated, in some cases immediately and in other cases gradually over many years.

Falling tariffs will help U.S. producers sell to Asian countries, drawn to America’s safe, diverse, affordable and high-quality farm goods, he said.

“Those middle-class consumers are very interested in buying American agricultural products,” he said. “It’s a dependable market opening for us.”

The trade agreement will simplify organic certifications and demand countries scientifically justify trade bans based on phytosanitary concerns, he said.

Vilsack defended the pact from critics who say the deal should have prohibited currency manipulation. Monetary policies should be addressed by financial agreements, he said. Including currency issues in trade pacts could hinder the ability of countries, including the U.S., to respond to recessions, he said.

The pact has come under attack from environmental organizations and worker-rights groups. Vilsack said TPP will facilitate talks on those issues with countries such as Vietnam. “It’s not easy having a discussion with a communist country on labor and the environment.”