Trans-Pacific Partnership supporters have their work cut out for them

Farm Forum

Most American farmers understand the importance of agricultural exports to their farming operations because overseas sales of commodities, food products, animal skins and more generate roughly 20 percent of U.S. farm income.

However, that same level of support does not seem to be transferring to what could be called the most important opportunity to expand trade in the foreseeable future: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

That’s despite the fact that over 200 farm and ranch organizations have expressed strong support for the TPP, while the National Farmers Union has been the largest national group voicing opposition.

The latest Agri-Pulse Farm and Ranch Opinion Poll found that almost 90 percent of our 750 respondents said that agricultural exports are either “somewhat” or “very” important to their farming operations. The survey was conducted Oct. 5-18 among commercial operations with at least 200 acres or more. Seventy-two percent of those responding farmed 1000 acres or less.

A similar amount indicated that they also view USDA export programs as being important to their farm. USDA has several programs that can be used to improve agricultural sales overseas, like the Export Credit Guarantee Program and the Market Access Program (MAP).

However, when it comes to the TPP, only about a quarter of farmers seem to be familiar with this regional trade agreement – which will enhance export opportunities with 11 other countries. In fact, awareness has barely grown since January when we first conducted a similar poll.

In January 2016, only 26 percent of the 750 farmers and ranchers surveyed in our nationwide poll were familiar with the TPP and by October, that number had increased only one point – to 27 percent.

The relatively good news for TPP supporters is that – among those who are familiar with the agreement that’s pending in Congress – support has grown.

Of those familiar with the trade agreement, support for TPP increased from 33 percent in January to 45 percent in our latest poll, conducted in mid-October.

That should be somewhat reassuring to the folks at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and USDA who have been crisscrossing the country, explaining how the TPP could lead to even higher farm incomes over time.

But it also underscores the need for USTR and others to do a better job explaining what TPP means to a wide variety of farmers and ranchers who are either unaware or already opposed.

Now that the election is over, supporters will need a lot more political support – from the farm and ranch community and other interest groups – if members of the U.S. Congress can ever be convinced to bring the TPP up for a vote in such a toxic political environment for trade.

Consider these facts, according to USTR:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will boost demand for U.S. farm and food products among nearly 500 million consumers in 11 countries across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Those countries include Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru, Chile, Mexico and Canada.

Much of the benefit comes from eliminating or lowering tariffs and increasing the number of products that can be exported either duty free or at a reduced rate under tariff rate quotas.

For example, the TPP agreement would lower the tariff that Japan applies to U.S. fresh, chilled and frozen beef cuts from 38.5% to 27.5 percent when the agreement goes into force and drop down to 9 percent over 15 years. These changes would level the playing field for U.S. beef versus Australian beef which currently enjoys a similar tariff treatment under an existing Free Trade Agreement with Japan. Duties on more than 65% of tariff lines would be eliminated on pork within 11 years and on nearly 80% within 16 years.

Japan would also create new Tariff Rate Quotas for U.S. wheat and rice. Tariffs for processed wheat products – currently as high as 26 percent – will be eliminated in 6 years. A new duty-free quota would be established for U.S. rice, initially set at 50,000 tons and growing to 70,000 tons in 13 years.

In Vietnam, rice tariffs – currently at 40 percent, would be eliminated within 8 years. And for poultry products, tariffs that can reach as high as 20 percent in Vietnam would be eliminated within 13 years.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has outlined what the TPP would mean for major commodities and for top commodities in each state. You can see more on their fact sheets, by product ( and by state (

The agreement also aims to address sanitary and phytosanitary measures that governments often use to protect food safety but can sometimes be used block or limit trade. The deal would also provide new procedures for resolving disputes when they develop.

And, if implemented, TPP would hopefully minimize trade disruptions caused by different country’s approvals of agricultural biotechnology and better coordinate the use of geographical indications – like Feta cheese – which some countries want exclusive naming rates for products from specific geographic locations.

Editor’s Note: The Agri-Pulse Poll, which was conducted by Aimpoint Research from Oct. 5-18, reached out to commercial operations of 200 acres or more, and has a margin of error of 3.6 percent with 95 percent confidence. The sample was not selected to favor one party over another, but, reflecting the more conservative nature of farmers and ranchers in recent elections, about 67 percent of our sample identified as Republican or leaning Republican. Democrats or those leaning Democrat made up 20 percent of the 750 farmers and ranchers who picked up the phone during what is still a very hectic harvest season for many. Just 12 percent of respondents identified themselves as Independent.

Reflecting the demographics of commercial agriculture, two-thirds of the farmers polled were 55 years of age or older and 83 percent of those surveyed were male. Sixty percent raised cattle, while 25 percent each raised dairy cattle and hogs. Only 3 percent had chicken operations.