Ag groups call on Congress to pass TPP this year

Ag groups call on Congress to pass TPP this year
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The nation's farmers and ranchers are putting their weight behind efforts urging Congress to pass a sweeping Asia-Pacific deal this year. 

In a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, 225 food and agricultural groups called on lawmakers to move forward on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership before President Obama leaves office.

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"The TPP presents a valuable opportunity for U.S. agriculture; one that we cannot afford to miss," the groups wrote.

"TPP is important for the future of rural America, and we urge passage of TPP during this session of Congress," they said. 

The groups signing on to the letter range from beef and pork producers to soybean and peanut farmers.

"While some tariffs remain, the overall TPP agreement successfully tears down many tariff and non-tariff trade barriers that currently hinder U.S. competitiveness, and prevent us from meeting consumer demand for high-quality U.S. food and agricultural products throughout the Asia-Pacific region," they wrote.

"TPP will allow us to be more competitive in the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific market."

Republican leaders have said that the earliest they would consider the TPP would be in the lame-duck session after the November elections.

The groups argue that the TPP will not only remove barriers to the 11 Asia-Pacific countries, but the agreement will also provide the leverage needed to eventually acquire market access with other potential TPP members such as Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

"TPP provides high-standard trade rules, allowing the United States to lead in establishing market-driven and science-based terms of trade that will directly benefit the U.S. food and agriculture industry in our efforts to compete and thrive in this important economic region," said Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen's Association.

Brunner said that cattle producers cannot wait any longer to level the playing field, especially with a deal in place between Japan and Australia that puts U.S. producers at a disadvantage, facing a tariff 11 percent higher than Australian beef.

"That tax alone makes our beef less competitive and gives Australia’s beef producers a significant advantage that has allowed them to capture over $100 million in additional beef sales at the expense of U.S. producers," Brunner said. 

With the TPP, the tariff rate on U.S. beef into will immediately drop to 27.5 percent from 38.5 percent, and the rate will continue to decrease over the following 16 years until it settles at 9 percent.

"That is why we cannot afford to delay passage of TPP; every day costs our producers real money," Brunner said. 

U.S. food and agricultural exports reached a record $150 billion in 2014, supporting more than 1.1 million jobs, which included 808,000 jobs outside the farm sector. 

The letter highlights an analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics that said that delaying the launch of TPP by even a year would represent a $94 billion permanent loss, or opportunity cost, to the U.S. economy.

The TPP will boost annual net farm income in the United States by $4.4 billion, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Agriculture Department estimates that every $1 billion of U.S. agricultural exports in 2014 provided approximately 7,550 American jobs throughout the economy.

"With net farm income at its lowest level since 2002, the costs of inaction are too high for us to ignore. We must act now," the groups wrote. 

"If we do not lead, we will simply fall behind as our competitors aggressively work to establish alternative trade agreements that place their agricultural interests at an advantage."