A group of 140 House members this week told President Obama that a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is welcome, but only with countries that fully open their markets to all U.S. agricultural products.
The TPP is a regional negotiation that includes the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which account for nearly 40% of global GDP.
The House members, led by Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., indicated that congressional support for the TPP would be jeopardized if U.S. negotiators accept anything less than elimination of all trade barriers to U.S. agricultural goods.
Members pointed to Japan's current offer, demanding special treatment for its agricultural sector; exemption from tariff elimination for certain "sensitive" products, including pork, beef, dairy, sugar, wheat, barley and rice.
"If accepted, this unprecedented and objectionable offer would significantly limit access for U.S. farmers and ranchers to the Japanese market and, most likely, to other TPP countries as well," the letter said.
It's reminiscent of prior calls earlier this year during the President's trip to Japan, where he discussed TPP progress with the country's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Then, and also now, legislators and farm groups also objected on the grounds that an agreement to Japan's demands could cause other countries to back pedal and make similar requests.
A compromise may also harm U.S. negotiations with future TPP members and on future free trade agreements, including one with the European Union, the legislators said in this week's letter.
"We owe our farmers and ranchers the best deal possible," the letter concluded.
The National Pork Producers Council said it holds a similar position on the TPP. "It's very important that Japan and other countries know that the U.S. Congress isn't going to agree to a trade deal that would leave on the negotiating table billions of dollars in U.S. sales and tens of thousands of U.S. jobs," NPPC President Dr. Howard Hill said.
Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler met last week with Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Oe on agricultural trade in the TPP; according to the USTR office, "they continued to make some progress in narrowing the gaps on treatment of a range of agricultural products."
The next meetings are planned for August 4-5 in Washington, D.C., according to the USTR.
Japan is the fourth largest market for U.S. agriculture, which shipped $12.1 billion of products to the island nation in 2013.