Perdue urges Trump to rejoin TPP
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — President Donald Trump should rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Pacific Rim trade accord he abandoned shortly after taking office last year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said before a group of Mid-Atlantic agriculture officials last month.
The deal would lower trade barriers among 11 member nations, strengthen the United States’ trade position against China and expand foreign markets for American farmers suffering from a worldwide commodity glut and consequential low prices, he said.
“The fact is, that’s not an easy sell. I’ve advised the president that the TPP would be great to re-enter,” Perdue said following a daylong meeting with Mid-Atlantic state agriculture secretaries at the Maryland Department of Agriculture on April 20. “It bills the United States with 11 other countries as a united force against China.”
Perdue’s comments came after Trump said in late January he was open to reversing his position on the TPP before flipping again days later on Twitter, saying, “I don’t like the deal for the United States. Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers.”
It was unclear as of press time if Trump’s position had changed again.
However, Perdue said he believed the president was capable of negotiating a better deal than the one he first rejected.
“The president obviously doesn’t like multilateral deals. He likes direct, bilateral deals,” Perdue said. “I understand that, but I think again, because we’re trying to build allies around the world, in many ways, we think the TPP would be an appropriate thing to re-engage.”
Former President Obama signed the TPP, which included Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Australia, to lower tariffs and give American producers, including farmers, a more even playing field when trading with Pacific Rim nations.
The pact was quickly politicized and attacked during the 2016 presidential campaign by Trump and Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, both of whom questioned whether the partnership would harm American workers.
Trump pulled out of the TPP days after his January inauguration.
But countries deciding on whether to readmit the United States to the pact are likely to wait until Trump resolves a pursuit of a new North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, Perdue said.
The president is also in the middle of a third trade dispute, which could have the greatest impact on farmers: China has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on $50 billion in U.S. imports — including a 25-percent duty on American soybeans — in response to Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum imports.
Since his election, Trump has argued that unfair protectionism has given China a $375 billion trade surplus with the United States.
Caught in the middle are U.S. farmers who exported more than $20 billion in goods to China in 2016 and could be disproportionately harmed if Beijing places levies on soybeans and other products, agitating world commodity markets.
Perdue said he was pleased with Mid-Atlantic state agriculture secretaries at the meeting who, like him, hope to see the United States avoid a tariff exchange that could damage a vulnerable agriculture industry.
“The message from them, which made me most proud — which is the message here from these guys — is, ‘We need trade, not aid,’” the USDA secretary said. “And I don’t know any farmer that would not rather have a fair price for a good crop than a government check.
“That’s what all of us are out there for.”
The Annapolis meeting, which included ag secretaries from Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia behind closed doors, touched on many subjects including the ailing dairy industry, illegal labor in agriculture and nutrient management, Perdue said.
He said it was USDA’s job to assist state governments working to strengthen Mid-Atlantic farmers.
“There are not many problems on the farm today that would not be cured by profitability,” he said.
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