DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. hog industry’s reaction to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a mix of frustration and annoyance with flashes of outrage and a touch of guarded optimism.
All major components of the U.S. industry, from pig production to slaughter to food processing, have lobbied hard for the Pacific Rim trade deal, but widespread public skepticism and trade antipathy by Democratic and Republican presidential nominees have made hog industry viewpoints moot.
“If the United States withdraws, if we don’t pass TPP, we are going to lose market share in the quickest growing region of the world,” said Nick Giordano, trade lead with the National Pork Producers Council.
“It’s the single greatest economic opportunity ever for pork producers.”
However, Giordano’s view, and those of thousands of hog farmers, suppliers, processors and marketers at the World Pork Expo, matter little in the present U.S. political climate, and U.S. legislators seem reluctant to push TPP ratification forward before the U.S. elections in November.
U.S. President Barack Obama drove the deal forward to its signing, when 12 countries, including Canada, agreed to try to enact it. However, a trade hostile mood has since developed among millions of Americans on both the right and left wings of the political spectrum.
U.S. chief agriculture negotiator Darci Vetter said he could imagine possible scenarios in which the TPP is approved before November, but he didn’t sound hopeful.
One scenario would be for the deal to be approved in the “lame duck” session of Congress. Sitting legislators often feel free of political concerns because many will not be in the new Congress and their parties won’t be as damaged by what they do.
“Frankly, time is getting tight, folks,” said Vetter.
A key challenge is explaining to Americans that stopping the TPP will not derail the globalization of recent decades.
“Countries will not stop seeking these international supply chains, looking for ways to expand their operations,” he said.
“That will occur.”
Vetter raised the spectre of slipping U.S. global influence if the deal fails with China eager to take Asia-Pacific leadership away from the U.S.
“China is not standing still,” Vetter said.
Giordano said Australia’s free trade deal with Japan recently gave that country’s beef exporters a 10 percent advantage over U.S. beef, and it might be joined soon by the U.S.’s next-door neighbor.
“If the U.S. doesn’t move forward by the end of the year, (the Canadian hog industry) and others in Canada will be pushing their government hard to negotiate a free trade agreement with Japan,” said Giordano, sounding exasperated.
“The rest of the world is not going to stand still and wait for the United States to have what amounts to a 1980s discussion about trade.”