Former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman, along with current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, said Friday that the U.S. can't afford to do without Trade Promotion Authority.
Glickman and Veneman, along with six additional former secretaries, are signatories on an open letter calling for TPA, which they say is critical to the United States' ability to negotiate trade deals.
The measure allows Congress an up or down vote on agreed-upon trade deals, which the secretaries said provides trading partners certainty that what's included in a final agreement won't be altered by Congressional amendments.
While generally supported by key ag groups, TPA – sometimes called "fast track" – is not welcomed by some legislators, who suggest it does not provide for a transparent approval process.
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In a press call Friday, the secretaries aimed to reduce confusion on the transparency issue. "Members of Congress and selected members of their staff with certain clearances have the right to read the negotiating text as it's being developed, so there can't be any greater transparency," Vilsack said.
He noted there has been close to 1,800 meetings with members of Congress that have briefed them on the rights of Congress while negotiating trade agreements.
"If we don't have TPA it becomes a bit difficult to convince Canada, to convince Japan – as we're talking about very difficult issues of market access – that whatever we ultimately agree to is something that won't be changed or modified by Congress," Vilsack said.
The lack of TPA already is having an impact on negotiations, Vilsack confirmed, noting that it's making it harder for U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman to come to a consensus with other countries while working to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
TPP, the secretaries said, will be crucial in securing top-quality environmental, labor and science-based trading standards with the Asia-Pacific region.
"If we don't write the rules, help write the rules and lead this effort, China will, "Vilsack warned. "I think it's going to be important for agriculture to weigh in and I think we're just getting started in this process."
Vilsack stressed that farmers have a "personal responsibility" to contact their legislators and advocate for trade agreements. According to the Secretary, about 30% of all ag sales are export related.
"We all have to roll up our sleeves," Glickman added, "and work at it with great intensity, because the people who are opposing trade agreements will oppose it with great intensity."