Trade ministers last week met in Singapore to discuss finer points of a potential Trans Pacific Partnership, though much work remains to be done before a final agreement is reached, the U.S. Grains Council says.
Ministers from the 12 nations involved – United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – announced that they have achieved agreement on "landing zones" on nearly 20 of the 29 TPP chapters.
Nonetheless, outstanding issues still include market access, government procurement, environment and intellectual property rights, USGC says.
Market access for sensitive agricultural products remains one of the most difficult issues, particularly for sugar, dairy and rice.
"A lot of people are watching the United States and Japan," said Floyd Gaibler, USGC director of trade policy and biotechnology. "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 towards successfully concluding the broader negotiations."
The National Farmers Union is concerned about currency manipulation, said NFU President Roger Johnson last week.
"Currency manipulation distorts the value of imported and exported goods and increases the likelihood that our existing trade deficit will only continue to rise," Johnson said in a released statement. "U.S. negotiators must affirm a goal of decreasing the enormous U.S. trade deficit, which harms our economy and destroys U.S. jobs. I urge our congressional allies to continue their stance against currency manipulation and reject any attempt to pass misguided agreements that reinforce the inequality of our trade playing field."
NFU cited an Economic Policy Institute study, that found two TPP members, Malaysia and Singapore, are among the world's major currency manipulators. A third, Japan, has announced its intent to intervene in the exchange market to lower the value of the yen, NFU points out.
The currency manipulation issue is also affecting Congress' stance on the Trade Promotion Authority, a fast-track trade measure that would allow President Obama to approve a TPP with only an up or down vote by Congress.
According to NFU, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich.,said during a Feb. 26 press call that the TPP or the TPA wouldn't be approved unless it includes disciplines on currency manipulation.
The discussion all follows a Feb. 20 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, signed by several ag groups that requested a trade agreement in which all countries agree to eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods, services and investment.
The letter noted that while every nation has sensitive sectors, all parties need to offer concessions on sensitive items to reach a high-quality agreement.
Meanwhile, livestock groups have reported similar concerns on sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, as well as market access. Dairy industry groups said Thursday that Canada and Japan are showing unwillingness to expand market access for dairy – a "sensitive sector." They also suggested that New Zealand's "monopolistic" dairy policies should be addressed, while developing a comprehensive agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary issues.
The trade ministers' joint statement following the conclusion of the Singapore negotiations last week set no date for the next TPP meeting, but USGC says there is considerable pressure to conclude the negotiations this spring with President Obama traveling to Asia in April and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers meeting in May.