Picture this: nearly 500 million people, more than four times the number of people who watched the Super Bowl last year.
That’s the equivalent of every man, woman and child living in the 11 other countries that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they’re all hungry. These half a billion potential shoppers can’t get enough of what American agriculture is dishing up, and their needs aren’t currently being met.
America’s farmers have been taken one step closer to fully tapping into that market with the finalization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The next step is for Congress to do the right thing and send the deal to the president’s desk.
Why is TPP a good deal for American agriculture? It positions us as a leader. It gives us the opportunity to build a loyal customer base in a region where demand is projected to grow substantially in the next 15 years. As with any negotiation, the final TPP agreement reflects compromise on all sides, but we believe our negotiators got the best possible deal for American agriculture.
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Despite current taxes on our products overseas, U.S. agricultural exports totaled over $13 billion to Japan, $2.3 billion to Vietnam and just under $1 billion to Malaysia in 2014. Overall, TPP countries purchased 42 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports, totaling $63 billion, despite the disadvantages we face.
The TPP agreement balances the diverse marketing needs of American farmers and ranchers right now with the market access we’ll need to cater to the tastes of consumers in TPP countries. By 2030, the Asia-Pacific region will represent 66 percent of the world’s middle class and will be looking for even more high-quality products that the U.S. excels at producing — meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. No one is better positioned to meet that growing demand than the most productive farmers in the world.
Without new trade deals, the growth in agricultural exports — and the jobs supported by them — enjoyed in years past may be at risk. TPP levels the playing field for farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers — many of them in rural areas — by eliminating more than 18,000 unfair taxes that various TPP countries put on American products and further expands our exports to the region.
Failing to implement TPP means American products would fall behind our competitors’, as other countries are now aggressively negotiating their own deals in the region that would leave us out.
TPP sets the rules of the road on labor and human rights, the environment and intellectual property for trade with Asia. If we don’t write those rules, our competitors will set weaker standards, threatening American jobs and workers while undermining U.S. leadership in Asia. China is already there, aggressively negotiating a competing agreement with other Asian nations. The question to ask ourselves isn’t if new rules will be set, it’s who is going to win the race to set them.
Perhaps most importantly, TPP reflects America’s values. For most Americans, this is about more than dollars and diplomacy; it’s about keeping a good-paying job and preserving their communities.
TPP will benefit more than just the segment of the American population directly involved in producing food. It will have a ripple effect all across rural America. Exports today directly support more than 1 million American jobs, and increased exports under TPP will support more of them. Expanded export opportunities also benefit the packers, processors, shippers and others employed at every step in the production chain.
America needs the good deal laid out in the TPP agreement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture remains committed to working closely with Congress to obtain support for this historic deal so that our businesses can sell more rural-grown and rural-made goods around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win.
Tom Vilsack is the former governor of Iowa and current U.S. agriculture secretary.