In Denver, Ag. Secretary Urges Farmers, Ranchers To Back Pacific Trade Pact

October 10, 2015
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack came to Denver on Friday to kick off a national tour selling the Trans-Pacific Partnership to U.S. farmers. President Obama finalized the trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries earlier this week. 
Vilsack met with Colorado farmers and business leaders, stressing that the deal stands to further open Asian markets to Colorado's agricultural exports. 
"Here in Colorado, you're obviously producing great beef, you're obviously interested in having access to additional markets," he said. 
Beef earned attention because it's Colorado's top agricultural export followed by wheat. The tariffs Japan applies to U.S. beef would drop by more than 80 percent under the TPP. 
Meat wasn't the only item on the menu for Vilsack. Colorado vegetable farmer Robert Sakata supplied the secretary with an onion for his press conference. The piece of produce helped Vilsack stress that fruits and vegetables have become the fastest-growing aspect of trade increases in the last five years. 
"And it's because of the quality that our family farmers are producing. The rest of the world wants it," he said. 
The nations involved say the pact aims to reduce trade barriers, lower tariffs on imports and exports, foster more strict labor and environmental rules, strengthen copyright protections and more.
Not all farmers support the deal. The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has encouraged Congress to vote it down because of a lack of control on currency manipulation. They worry that practice--common in China and Japan--gives an unfair advantage to foreign exports and workers. 
The trade deal faces broader opposition from many on the political left. Unions worry that it will make it easier move jobs overseas. Environmentalists think it will help companies water down environmental protections. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is also against the deal--even after pushing it along as Secretary of State. 
While Vilsack supports Clinton's presidential campaign, he says that doesn't mean he's against the trade deal. 
"I think her attitude is, 'Good start, but we could do better.' And I would expect nothing less from a presidential candidate," he said. 
The actual text of the trade agreement has yet to be made public. Congress will have an up or down vote on the deal in the coming months.