The White House on Thursday announced a series of executive actions pledging to make it easier for rural businesses to get involved in export markets. The announcement also underscored trade data that supports finalization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Related: TPP negotiations entering 'end game'
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce Bruce Andrews and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz each participated in a call regarding the announcement Thursday morning, sharing trade priorities of the Obama Administration.
According to Vilsack, exports are crucial to the success of rural businesses and will become even more important as importing countries demand more products that rural farmers and producers can provide. He noted that 30% of all sales are directly related to exports, and they support 1.1 million higher-paying jobs.
The TPP, an agreement being negotiated with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, is an opportunity to expand these exports, Vilsack stressed.
"Five out of 10 top markets for American products are in Asia," Vilsack said. "We see a tremendous opportunity with TPP to access that expanding middle class in Asia."
Currently about 525 million middle class consumers live in Asia, a number that could grow to 2.7 billion in 15 years, Vilsack said.
The executive actions aim to improve the volume of exports that will ultimately serve the growing Asian market, Vilsack noted. They include: priorities for reverse trade shows; private-public partnerships to improve infrastructure; involvement with the U.S. Postal Service on shipping and shipping costs; and funding to improve development of new products in rural areas.
Other actions include a new National Rural Export Innovation Team to help more rural businesses access export-related assistance, information and events; and a new partnership with community banks to educate local lenders on the needs of rural exporters and the federal export resources available to them and their customers.
Building on export development priorities is the Administration's support of TPP and the Trade Promotion Authority.
TPA is a measure that would allow trade deals like the TPP to move through Congress with only an up-or-down vote. The authority, which is granted by Congress, hasn't been in effect since 2007.
It's a controversial topic, with TPA supporters suggesting that it gives trading partners certainty that their agreement will not be changed by Congress' amendments, making it easier to negotiate deals. Opponents suggest TPA limits Congress' authority to bar any elements of trade agreements seen as hurtful to the middle class.
Officials on Thursday's call, however, said TPA will ultimately lead to approval of TPP and a wealth of trade opportunities for U.S. producers. It may also avoid market control by other countries.
"We're pursuing this because Asia is the fastest-growing region in the world, and it’s a region to which our workers, our farmers can be exporting more of their products when TPP opens up markets and levels the playing field," Muñoz said.
"We believe TPP will support additional jobs and growth in the United States and frankly, we think it's foolish to cede this opportunity to other countries, like China, who will write the rules of the road for this region if we don't take the field."
Muñoz said the executive actions weren't a move to push TPP, but rather a deliberate effort to expand export opportunities in rural America. They're also part of "Made in Rural America" trade promotion efforts launched about a year ago.
"This is really this is part of a much longer-term deliberate effort to make sure that we are bringing the benefits of economic growth to every sector of the country," she said.