U.S. cotton exports stand to grow under TPP.

A bipartisan group of former U.S. Agriculture Secretaries issued an open letter Friday urging Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The seven former secretaries, who served in the cabinets of Democratic and Republican presidents, said opening new markets for exports is critical for farmers and rural communities. They noted that agricultural exports provide 20 percent of farm income and support more than one million jobs, many of them in rural communities.

TPP will create new opportunities for U.S.-grown and made products in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region, the former officials said.

By opening new markets in Japan, Vietnam and other countries, the pact would give U.S. producers access to new customers and expand their sales, they said. These sales would generate more farm production and related activities that will grow the U.S. economy.

According to a separate fact sheet issued by the Department of Agriculture, TPP countries account for about 42 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports, totaling $63 billion. Because of this agreement and its removal of trade barriers, American agricultural exports to the region are poised to expand even further, DOA said.

“As former Secretaries of Agriculture, we have been personally invested in the negotiation of every major U.S. trade agreement of the past 40 years,” the group said. “We know from experience how important such agreements are to the economic well-being of our farmers and ranchers. In every negotiation where agriculture has been on the agenda, these negotiations have expanded our markets, boosted farm incomes and in the process, created new jobs, both on-farm and off-farm, in rural America.”

They said the 12-nation TPP is in that same mold and represents this U.S.’s “rebalance toward Asia,” which fits American agriculture perfectly.

“We have long had aspirations to sell more of our products to Japan and we’ll now have that enhanced opportunity,” the secretaries said. “But TPP also opens up new markets in the growing economies of Vietnam and Malaysia.”

The DOA fact sheet noted that Japan imported $62 million of U.S. cotton in 2014, and that under the TPP agreement, all of Japan’s tariffs on cotton will remain at zero percent.

President Obama submitted TPP to Congress this month and the pact is expected to be voted on next year. Most business groups have lined up in support of the agreement, while environmental and labor groups have voiced opposition. The political climate, coming amid the run-up to next year’s presidential election, has made predictions for passage difficult.

The secretaries said TPP is a 21st-century agreement that sets enforceable “rules of the road” for trade throughout the region, and with countries representing more than 40 percent of the global economy.

“But it is also meant to be an open platform for other countries to potentially join, over time, if they are willing to meet the high standards set forth in the agreement, and if we and the other TPP members — and our own Congress — confirm they can meet that bar. That means potential future agricultural export opportunities could open up within the region.”

The letter also stresses that TPP has non-economic benefits, such as solidifying the U.S.’s working relationship with participating Asian and South American countries, which has foreign policy and national security implications. In addition, “beyond the border” provisions such as enforceable labor and environmental provisions in developing countries — beyond mere tariff reductions — help level the playing field for U.S. businesses and American exports, including agricultural products, they said.

The former Agriculture Secretaries — Ed Schafer, who served from 2008 to 2009 under President George W. Bush; Mike Johanns, who also served Bush from 2005 to 2007; Ann Veneman, who was in Bush’s cabinet from 2001 to 2005; Dan Glickman, who served under President Clinton from 1995 to 2001; Mike Espy, who was in Clinton’s cabinet from 1993 to 1994; Clayton K. Yeutter, who headed the DOA under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, and John R. Block, who served in the Reagan Administration from 1981 to 1986, urged Congress to pass TPP because, while “not perfect…is a very good trade agreement.”

“In addition to its market access benefits, it will establish the rules of the game for international trade and help drive up standards for the entire world for years to come,” they said. “That is especially invaluable to a country like the United States, which tries to follow the rules of the global marketplace, whereas others often do not. TPP represents solid, committed leadership by the U.S. in international trade, and in one of the most dynamic, fastest-growing regions of the world.”

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