The small cultivators of perique notwithstanding, Louisiana is not a tobacco state, not like major producers in the Carolinas and Kentucky. But Louisiana’s interests in growing world trade are huge, and those have become embroiled in tobacco-state politics.
We had hoped that the big hurdles to eventual completion of a major new Pacific trade deal had been passed in Congress. Passing with 62 votes in June, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was backed by both Louisiana senators; the support of U.S. Sens. David Vitter, of Metairie, and Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, both Republicans, is in line with our state’s interests in trade promotion.
But trade promotion authority is not the last vote because a simple majority vote will ultimately be needed to approve the final treaty with 12 nations.
Now, Reuters news service has reported that the incredibly complex and convoluted path toward approval in Congress was not the last word because the final treaty is said to include little or no protections against anti-tobacco laws in other nations. Australia, for example, bans branded packs of cigarettes. Under the new treaty, can U.S. farmers complain about this as unfair discrimination?
Several senators from the tobacco states are now crying foul, saying they were assured that no anti-tobacco rules would be allowed in the treaties. Capitol Hill’s Roll Call reported that the issue endangers some support, including that of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.
We don’t know where all this is going to go, but the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have quite rightly seen this trade deal as a success story; working with President Barack Obama, the pro-growth forces overcame opposition from labor unions and other key Democratic groups.
So, we don’t think that GOP leaders will derail TPP over this one parochial issue. What this little fracas shows, though, is how important it is that the administration — any administration — needs the authority to negotiate with our trade partners over the specifics of what is covered by new treaties.
Whether it’s rice in Louisiana or sugar beets in Minnesota or tobacco in Kentucky, there are literally tons of products that mean livelihoods and benefit local economies. We want a trade deal that allows sale of these products across the world.
By every measurable standard, a trade deal — even with longtime friends such as Australia, South Korea or Japan — can grow wealth by lowering barriers to entry to everything from farm products to highly customized software or chemicals.
Every parochial interest is important to the region where it is a source of jobs. Overall, though, free trade has been a giant engine of economic progress across the world.
We hope it is not derailed at the last minute by smaller — not petty, necessarily, but smaller — local interests seeking better treatment in the detailed language of a treaty achieving larger national goals.