Nigel Stirling writes at Farmers Weekly:
The fight for open access for New Zealand farm exports into the United States has taken a big step forward, with key American agricultural lobbies giving their backing to a comprehensive Pacific Rim trade deal with no exclusions for agriculture.
Thirty-seven of the US’s peak agricultural and farming lobbies have written to their government pledging support for the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade talks, which aim to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade between 12 countries.
In a letter sent to new US Trade Representative Mike Froman and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, the industry groups gave their backing to US negotiators to pursue a comprehensive deal, with no exclusions for agriculture in any country involved in the talks.
The importance of this is quite huge. If the major agricultural lobby groups do not try and block eliminating agricultural barriers and tariffs, then not only is a deal more likely, but it may actually get past the US Congress. These lobby groups have considerable sway in smaller rural states.
“There must be no product or sector exclusions, including in agriculture. Exclusions would limit opportunities in each of the member countries to reach new markets, grow business and generate economic growth and jobs,” it said.
Importantly the letter was signed by the US Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Council.
Both groups have in the past been sceptical about the US joining the TPP and have highlighted the threat to American farmers from opening their domestic market to competition from NZ exports.
They may be starting to see the potential gains from having their own access to some Asian markets.
Trade Minister Tim Groser said the backing from the US dairy industry could be critical in getting a deal past American lawmakers that included agriculture and therefore was beneficial to NZ.
“The political game here is pretty obvious. The way Congress works is through these sorts of letters and people add up the number of lobbies for and add up the number against and that is the political process under way,” Groser said.
The letter was sent to US Government officials last month but came to light only last week.
I’ve been very skeptical up until now that the US might make meaningful concession on the agricultural side. This changes that.
He expected the US to have made an offer on dairy by the time TPP country leaders meet on the sidelines of APEC in Indonesia in early October.