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Big wins for agriculture hang in the balance as mid-term elections threaten trade talks

OTTOWA, Ontario – On Saturday, negotiators from the 12 member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks wrapped up their latest meeting in the Canadian capitol of Ottawa, Ontario.

The Japan Times reports that even a date for the next meeting proved elusive, as negotiators continue to grapple with significant but contentious chapters of the deal, such as intellectual property rights.

Chief among agricultural concerns is the outcome of ongoing bilateral talks between Japan and the United States regarding products Japan considers sensitive, including beef and pork. Japan has proved reluctant to eliminate tariffs on those items, and U.S. negotiators have countered that if Japanese tariffs on sensitive products are left intact, more countries will seek similar protections in the final deal. Japanese and American negotiators are slated to discuss the issue this week in Washington, D.C.

According to the U.S. Grains Council, general sentiment out of the Ottawa meeting seems to be that a conclusion to the talks later this year is necessary. But that timeline is complicated by the mid-term elections here in the United States.

Reportedly, American private-sector stakeholders are questioning when Congress anticipates consideration of Trade Promotion Authority or TPA. If Congress grants it to the President, it would allow the executive branch to broker trade deals which federal lawmakers can pass or reject, but not amend. TPA also gives trading partners confidence that an agreed-upon deal won’t be changed by Congress at the eleventh hour.

Resident scholar Derek Scissors with the American Enterprise Institute points out that political momentum for a Trans-Pacific Partnership will be zero in the run-up to the mid-term elections, and he believes a point in late 2015 may be the final shot for any potential TPP. At that time, he points out, the campaigns for the 2016 presidential elections here in the U.S. will begin in force.

To hear more about progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what it means for agriculture, click here.