Advancing U.S. Agriculture Trade in Asia

Feb 27, 2015 Issues: Agriculture, Trade

With 95 percent of consumers living outside the U.S. border and standards of living increasing in much of the developing world, global demand for Nebraska’s agriculture products is growing. Unfortunately, current trade barriers prevent our producers from fully capitalizing on this opportunity.  

Last week, I joined an eight-member congressional delegation led by Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan to promote trade in three Asian nations participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. In Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, we met with senior government officials and American and local business leaders in an effort to advance the U.S. trade agenda and strengthen ties with these countries.  

At each stop, our delegation stressed how increased agriculture trade can be a win-win for both countries. Japan is one of the United States’ top trading partners, and our discussions on agriculture with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were particularly productive.  

However, for all 12 TPP parties to reach agreement on a final deal, Japan will have to make progress on agriculture market-access issues. This was a recurring theme in our meetings, and the Japanese acknowledged they still have work to do. This includes lowering tariffs, such as the 38.5 percent tariff on both fresh and frozen beef, and reducing other trade barriers.  

The Japanese also made it clear they do not want to make final offers until Congress passes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), adding to the need for us to act quickly on this effort. For America to get the best possible deal in trade negotiations, passing TPA is the essential first step.

The President already has the authority to negotiate trade deals with any country at any time. By passing TPA, we would empower Congress to set the objectives for negotiations and provide clear instructions to the administration. TPA requires the administration to consult with members of Congress throughout the process and provide them access to negotiation texts at any time. It also gives Congress the final say on approving any trade agreements. In exchange, the administration can assure our trading partners when they bring their best offer to the negotiating table, the agreement reached will receive a straight up or down vote in Congress.

As we ask other nations to bring these best offers to us, we must uphold our end of the bargain. Issues such as the recent workforce disputes at our West Coast ports, which disrupted trade with Asia for months, not only make it more difficult for our trading partners to take us seriously but also cause great hardship for our producers and exporters.

At a Ways and Means Committee hearing earlier this year, I raised concerns about these disputes to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. Many perishable goods such as pork and beef were spoiling before they could be shipped, leading to large losses for U.S. exporters. Agriculture producers feared overseas customers would look to foreign competitors to supply products if we could not regain reliable service.  

As the disputes continued, I also joined 83 of my colleagues in writing to the International Longshore and Workers Union and Pacific Maritime Association urging a swift resolution. Thankfully, an agreement has been reached, and as of this week our ports are once again operating at full speed and beginning to work through the backlog of ships waiting offshore. Moving forward, we must avoid conflicts like this to ensure U.S. producers, manufacturers and consumers can take full advantage of expanded market opportunities.  

To keep America competitive in the global economy, Congress will continue prioritizing initiatives to expand U.S. trade. I am optimistic we will soon pass TPA and move forward on negotiations to open new trade opportunities for Nebraskans.