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February 1, 2018

Is It Too Late For The U.S. To Rejoin TPP?

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Last week President Trump said he was open to rejoining the Transpacific Partnership if his administration could negotiate a "substantially better deal.” It might be too late.

“The TPP 11, those countries minus the U.S., have said that they have an agreement in principle to move forward that actually is the start of a process to really sort of dot the I's cross the t's and get ready for implementation,” Darci Vetter, former chief ag negotiator who worked on the deal told Clinton Griffiths on AgriTalk Thursday. “Whether that process could bear the U.S. you know coming into it at this point or whether they're interested in that before they solidify their deal among the 11 I think remains to be seen.”

The president’s comments alluding to a better deal being possible are confusing, according to Vetter.

“I can tell you from experience the original deal was a rather hard one to craft, but I think a good one for the United States and for U.S. agriculture,” she said. “We really don’t know what he means by that.”

According to Brian Kuehl, executive director of the Farmers for Free Trade coalition, the TPP represented an “amazing” opportunity for ag exports in the U.S. He told Griffiths it was a real blow for U.S. agriculture when President Trump left the deal shortly after becoming president. While the other 11 countries included in the deal have said they are open to the U.S. re-entering agreement, Vetter said there is no indication that a substantial change in the conditions would be “easy” or even desirable for the other 11 partners.

“That’s the real question,” she said. “What does this new interest in TPP really mean? Is it an interest in looking at and examining the TPP itself? Or is it a reference to those countries and the president has something else altogether in mind, in terms of what a substantially better deal would be in his estimation?”

Vetter added the administration should be cautious not to stretch the U.S. Trade Representative’s office too thin.

“It’s a pretty small agency,” she says. “We only have so many folks in the U.S. government with the expertise needed to negotiate these deals.”