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Trade Associations Respond to Trump’s TPP Withdrawal

On the heels of President Donald J. Trump’s long-expected withdrawal from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), trade associations across the food industry, many of which supported the 12-nation agreement, are encouraging the nation’s new chief executive not to neglect foreign trade issues.

Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, noted that “now is the time to move past anti-trade rhetoric and begin the process of building consensus for the key portions of the agreement that had been negotiated in the TPP. Both U.S. agriculture and U.S. consumers benefit from trade, and exports to the Asian Pacific countries are a critical opportunity for U.S. producers. Beyond that, the TPP was the first major agreement that began to build strong rules for countries to prevent putting up protectionist measures in the form of sanitary and phytosanitary barriers. Without this agreement, we fall back to an environment where countries can simply choose to block imports without scientific justification.”

Stenzel’s advice to the Trump Administration is “not just to withdraw from trade agreements, but to come to the table to renegotiate agricultural agreements as soon as possible. Our potential trading partners won’t sit idly by, but will find other partners and leave the United States behind. Most importantly, America deserves real trade agreements that benefit both consumers and producers.”

“The produce and floral business have unique trade aspects -- depending on the item there could be both exports and counter-seasonal imports,” explained Kathy Means, VP of industry relations at Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association. “Others, such as pineapple and bananas, are almost exclusively import-dependent. So we are concerned about the impacts of the TPP withdrawal and eager to hear about the administration’s plans for alternatives to TPP.’

TPP isn’t the only issue on the produce industry’s mind, however. Notes Means: “Additionally, congressional tax reform proposals for a border adjustment tax could also affect the flow and trade of produce and floral items, and we are equally concerned about those impacts.”

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) struck a similar note on behalf of dairy producers, with Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based NMPF, counseling that a retreat from TPP "must not lead to a retreat from economic engagement with growing Asian markets for American dairy products.”

Mulhern further exhorted “the Trump Administration to look for future opportunities to increase our dairy exports in Asia and around the world. Our competitors have been successfully negotiating trade agreements over the past several years. This puts the U.S. agriculture sector at a competitive disadvantage if we don't pursue our own initiatives.”

'Far From Perfect, but Still Beneficial'

While noting that TPP “was far from perfect, but was beneficial to the U.S. dairy sector because in addition to new market access, it also made significant progress in focusing on other barriers, including sanitary/phytosanitary standards, as well as the abuse of geographical indications to block competition in common food categories,” Matt McKnight, acting chief of staff of Arlington-based USDEC, suggested that President Trump replace the failed trade deal with bilateral agreements with countries such as Japan, Vietnam and others in Southeast Asia, an approach that the chief executive has already expressed interest in pursuing.

In other trade deal news, both dairy groups also joined with 130 other farm and food organizations in requesting that President Trump preserve agriculture market access in Mexico, the top market for U.S. dairy exports, through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the president has announced he will begin renegotiating with Mexican and Canadian leaders.

“Trade is vital to the economic health of the U.S. meat and poultry sector and the local American communities in which meat and poultry companies operate,” pointed out Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the Washington-based North American Meat Institute (NAMI). “An estimated 24 percent of U.S. pork, 14 percent of U.S. beef and 20 percent of broilers are exported," continued Carpenter, adding: “U.S. beef consumed in Japan can generate jobs and taxes that funds schools, roads and police and fire departments in towns like Garden City, Kan., and Schuyler, Neb.; lost trade opportunities abroad can mean lost jobs at home.’

Acknowledging that TPP was finished, he said, “We value our trade relationships with Asia and we look forward to discussing paths to access these markets so we may expand our industry and ensure both job and economic growth at home.”

In contrast with Carpenter's hopeful outlook for the future, Tracy Brunner, president of the Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, expressed present worries, noting: “Fact is, American cattle producers are already losing out on $400,000 in sales every day because we don’t have TPP, and since NAFTA was implemented, exports of American-produced beef to Mexico have grown by more than 750 percent. We’re especially concerned that the Administration is taking these actions without any meaningful alternatives in place that would compensate for the tremendous loss that cattle producers will face without TPP or NAFTA.

Added Brunner: “Sparking a trade war with Canada, Mexico, and Asia will only lead to higher prices for American-produced beef in those markets and put our American producers at a much steeper competitive disadvantage. The fact remains that 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States, and expanding access to those consumers is the single best thing we can do to help American cattle-producing families be more successful.”

While most industry groups anticipate fruitful bilateral trade agreements, they still mourn what might have been under TPP. “This is a lost opportunity for exporters and importers to make the global seafood trade market a more predictable place,” Gavin Gibbons, VP of communications for the Washington-based National Fisheries Institute (NFI), told SeafoodSource News.

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