California lawmakers split over big Pacific Rim trade deal

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., center, joined at left by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., right, and other members of Congress, speaks at a news conference in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, about the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., center, joined at left by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., right, and other members of Congress, speaks at a news conference in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, about the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. AP

California lawmakers are going to split over a sprawling Pacific Rim trade deal unveiled Thursday, even as the state’s major farmers and business leaders foresee a definite winner.

Buoyed by the support of groups like Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement binding 12 nations will be appealing to a fair share of the nation’s largest congressional delegation.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.

But note the key word: “Cautiously.”

Even the state’s most reliable free-trade advocates, like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, insist they still need to study the details spelled out across 30 chapters and accompanying documents.

“I have to make sure all the ag pieces are what they told us they were going to be,” noted Rep Devin Nunes, R-Calif., referring to the agreement’s impact on agricultural exports. He said the deal remains a question mark “until you actually see the language.”

Enactment of TPP is going to require the administration to fully explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families

House Speaker Paul Ryan

Now chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nunes formerly led the House trade subcommittee and has at times worked closely with Obama administration trade officials. Last June, he joined 218 other House members in narrowly approving a crucial trade procedure that will be used to “fast-track” congressional consideration of the new deal.

Other San Joaquin Valley representatives including Valadao, McCarthy, Republican Reps. Jeff Denham and Tom McClintock, and Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, also voted for the trade procedure.

The measure prohibits filibusters and congressional amendments to the negotiated trade deal, and at a certain point will start a Capitol Hill clock ticking for a vote.

Most House Democrats from the state, including Reps. Doris Matsui, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps, opposed the trade procedure. For some, but not all, this earlier vote could suggest opposition to the underlying Pacific Rim trade deal when it comes to a final vote next year

“It foreshadows it, but it doesn’t really determine it, because I look at them differently,” Capps said Thursday. “I really want to study this one carefully. These package deals need to be scrutinized.”

McNerney similarly said Thursday that, though the odds may be that he votes against trade deal, he is “going to have to look at it closely” before forming a final opinion.

The lawmakers have a point. The detailed tariff elimination schedule for just one country –Vietnam – spans 260 pages. The language of the agreement itself is a thicket, hard for a layman to penetrate.

“The agricultural safeguard trigger quantity in any year shall be determined by multiplying the in-quota quantity for the goods of Peru identified in subparagraph (g) for that year, as set out in Appendix A to the United States Schedule to Annex 2-D, by 130 %,” one typical document states.

As part of its promotional pitch, though, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office has cranked out myriad talking points that focus, for instance, on the potential benefits for California’s agricultural exports.

Currently, tariffs hinder foreign sales. Japan, for instance, imposes a tariff of up to 32 percent on fresh oranges, 17 percent on apples and 10 percent on shelled walnuts.

Under the trade deal, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia will over time eliminate the tariffs on all tree nuts, as well as fresh and processed fruits, including citrus. Japan will eliminate tariffs on cheese, while Vietnam will eliminate tariffs more generally on dairy products.

The TPP is a giveaway to big agribusiness and food companies that want to use trade deals to attack sensible food safety rules, weaken the inspection of imported food and block efforts to strengthen U.S. food safety standards.

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director

It won’t all happen immediately. Some Japanese tariffs on fresh and processed vegetables will be phased out over a period of up to 11 years. Malaysia’s high rice tariff will take 10 years to reach zero, while the United States’ own tariffs on processed fruits will not be eliminated for another 15 years.

Other tariffs will be reduced, but not entirely eliminated. Japan’s 38.5 percent tariff on U.S. beef, for instance, will fall to 9 percent. Other barriers, like certain phytosanitary rules imposed by other countries, will also shrink. These rules have to do with the safety of agricultural products crossing borders.

All told, California in 2013 exported $70.1 billion worth of goods to the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“It is my hope that after thorough review, we can verify that the agreement will provide economic benefits and support good-paying jobs in our Valley and our country,” Costa said.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called the deal a “major win,” while the National Chicken Council says the deal “represents a major opportunity” for U.S. producers. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, though, called the trade pact “bad for America’s family farmers and ranchers.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10