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Ag Groups Want Japan Trade Concessions

DANIEL LOOKER 03/13/2014 @ 4:50pm Business Editor

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and representatives of several leading farm groups said Thursday that the U.S. should not agree to a Japanese proposal to leave agricultural products out of the current negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would reduce tariffs among 12 nations. 

"If they get their way, then every other country will suddenly have a list of sacred products that can't be touched," said Grassley during a press conference where he was joined by representatives of the National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, and the National Oilseed Processors Association.

The Pork Producers' counsel for international affairs, Nick Giordano, agreed. "We can expect other countries such as China to make similar demands" if Japan succeeds in protecting its agriculture, he said.

China isn't in the TPP discussions, but, like Japan, is a major buyer of U.S. farm products. For months, Japan has been balking at putting long-protected domestic agriculture on the table for the TPP. The zone of freer trade would include a dozen nations on both sides of the Pacific, an area with 40% of the world’s GDP.

Grassley said Thursday that a successful TPP agreement "has great potential for generating jobs in America." 

Just before a ministerial meeting in Singapore last month to move negotiations along, Japan was asking for special treatment for its agriculture. 

That prompted a bipartisan group of 18 U.S. senators to write U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. Led by Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Grassley, they raised concerns that Japan hasn’t yet made a comprehensive offer on ag products.

"In previous trade negotiations, the United States requested and received full and comprehensive liberalization in the agricultural sector from both developed countries like Japan as well as developing countries," the senators wrote. "By requesting special treatment for its agricultural sector in the TPP, Japan may upset the careful balance of concessions that the 11 [other] economies involved in the negotiations have achieved."

The talks in Singapore that followed also ended without resolving the issue.

"A lot of people are watching the United States and Japan," Floyd Gaibler, head of trade policy for the U.S. Grains Council, said last month. "Rice, wheat, sugar, meat products, and dairy are especially sensitive. If the United States and Japan – the two biggest economies involved in the talks – can reach an agreement, it would be an important step toward successfully concluding the broader negotiations."

The U.S. has domestic hurdles, too. In an election year, Democrats in the Senate are reluctant to give the Obama administration the trade promotion authority it needs to complete a TPP deal. Some observers see a TPP as months – even years – away.

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