January 26, 2015 / 5:28 PM / 5 years ago

US pig farmers see 'significant progress' in Pacific trade pact

WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - U.S. pork producers on Monday hailed “significant progress” in Asia-Pacific regional trade talks and urged lawmakers to give the White House authority to fast-track trade deals, a sign that a deadlock with Japan may be softening.

An impasse between the United States and Japan, the two biggest economies in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, over exports of U.S. farm goods and Japanese cars has held up negotiations on a wider deal for months.

Pork producers, who have demanded Japan cut tariffs on U.S. imports or be cut out of the deal, said in a letter to lawmakers the TPP would be “the most beneficial deal ever” for the pork industry and other farming sectors.

“Significant progress has been made with respect to Japan’s market access offer on pork thanks to the hard work of U.S. trade officials and the strong support of the U.S. Congress,” National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Howard Hill said in a statement.

“While NPPC is reserving judgment on a final TPP agreement, we believe it is imperative that Congress approve TPA (trade promotion authority) as a signal to our trading partners that the U.S. is ready to finalize an agreement that expands U.S. trade and generates U.S. jobs.”

The vote of support from a key interest group comes as chief negotiators gather in New York for further talks on the TPP, which some hope can be wrapped up by mid-March.

In another sign of progress, the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday Japan had offered to import more rice from the United States in a compromise aimed at pushing forward the deal, and the United States had dropped its request that Japan ease safety standards on car imports.

The U.S. Trade Representative declined comment on the report and a Japanese official said it was “misleading” to suggest the deal was done. “Working level talks between Japan and the U.S. are still continuing and many difficult issues remain,” the official said.

Farm lobby groups said last year Japan should be suspended from the talks if the country insisted on keeping tariffs on sensitive products, which include wheat, rice, dairy, sugar, beef and pork.

Trade promotion authority allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without amendments, in exchange for setting negotiating goals.

But trade skeptics have vowed to defeat legislation which they say would weaken Congress’s oversight role.

Reporting by Krista Hughes; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; editing by Andrew Hay

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