U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is telling Midwest farmers to sit tight while his office hammers out a major trade deal with a group of Asian countries, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Agricultural exports are already at record highs and the export market is crucial for many Midwest farmers, particularly those who plant soybeans, wheat and corn. But USDA officials say the U.S. could be doing even more with the help of the TPP.
They’re trying to open up markets in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam by cutting tariffs and adjusting certain sanitary standards. Mexico, Canada, Chile and Mexico are also involved in negotiations.
The Obama administration entered TPP talks in 2009. Since that time, 19 formal rounds of negotiations have been held around the globe.
“American farmers and ranchers simply want a level playing field,” Vilsack said. “They don’t want high tariffs. They don’t want barriers. Because we are confident that given a level playing field we will be able to effectively compete.”
But while Vilsack and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative tout the deal’s potential benefits, it still has its high-profile detractors. Political theorist Noam Chomsky has blasted both the theory behind the TPP and the secrecy that shrouds the negotiations. Even celebrities like Sean Penn and Gwyneth Paltrow have weighed in on TPP, pleading with Obama not to agree to any deal with Japan until they ban dolphin slaughter.
Vilsack says negotiations are ongoing. The countries were supposed to ink a compromise late last year, but several sticking points, the high tariffs among them, have kept a final deal from coming together.