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Kansas Senator Calls TPP Trade Deal Crucial – But It's Mired In Presidential Politics

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is crucial for farmers wanting access to new and growing markets. But in the midst of the presidential campaign the deal faces an uphill battle.

Speaking on a panel at the Kansas State Fair Saturday, Roberts, who is the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, distinguished the TPP from other trade deals. He says the agriculture industry stands to benefit too much for it to be allowed to fail.

“Every trade agreement I’ve been involved with – I’ve been involved with a lot of them – they’re always over-criticized, but they’re also always over-sold,” Roberts said. “But this particular agreement is absolutely important for us. We have to export our product.”

The TPP, which the U.S. signed with 11 other member nations in February, would eliminate foreign import taxes on a variety of goods, including agricultural exports. The International Trade Administration says nearly half of Kansas’ goods exports go to countries participating in the TPP, including Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. In 2014, Kansas exported almost $6 billion in goods to TPP countries.

Roberts warns that until the U.S. ratifies the agreement, other countries will find trade opportunities elsewhere.

“We’re talking about a whole host of countries who are now making bilateral agreements between themselves. Australia is selling wheat and beef to Japan. We should be doing that,” he said.

Roberts says Pres. Barack Obama has given the agreement only “lip service”. He doesn’t expect the TPP will get through Congress this year. If it doesn’t, passage would be left in the hands of the next president.

But both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have expressed opposition to the trade deal.

“The political situation is such that both candidates for president obviously have different views on trade than maybe we three here at the table,” Roberts said, referring to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas and Kansas State University agricultural economist Allen Featherstone, who had joined Roberts on the panel Saturday.

Roberts, along with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, is advising the Trump campaign on agricultural issues. The Republican senator believes the GOP nominee wants to create better trade agreements though Trump has been vocal about intentions to do away with NAFTA and has called the TPP a "catastrophe," a “disaster” and a “job-killer.”

“We had quite a few recommendations policy-wise. His initial statement was pretty good,” Roberts said of Trump in remarks after the panel discussion at the state fair.

Roberts remains hopeful lawmakers can move on the TPP quickly in 2017.

-- Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter  @NadyaFaulx .

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at  news@kmuw.org .

Copyright 2020 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Nadya joined KMUW in May 2015 (which will sound more impressive when it’s not June 2015) after a year at a newspaper in western North Dakota, where she did not pick up an accent.
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