WASHINGTON — President Obama and top administration officials are counting on the nation’s farmers to make noise on Capitol Hill, hoping it will win some votes in Congress for the president’s embattled trade proposal.

In an interview with McClatchy, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that U.S. farmers could be among the biggest beneficiaries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation trade pact that could scrap or reduce tariffs for farm goods.

But before the tariffs go away, Vilsack said farmers and farm groups that stand to benefit from more trade in Pacific Rim countries need to step up their lobbying efforts to match the intensity of trade opponents.

“Frankly, those who are opposed to trade agreements, for whatever reason, have been very successful and very well-organized. … The reality is that because the opponents have been organized, members of Congress may be hearing disproportionately from those who are opposed,” Vilsack said.

While the administration says the Trans-Pacific Partnership would help farmers, opponents say it would do little but aid large corporations and send more U.S. jobs overseas.

“The TPP might benefit a handful of big (agriculture) middlemen, but it would be extremely damaging to America’s family farmers,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of farm, labor, environmental, consumer and human rights groups that opposes the fast-track plan.


He said opposition to the president’s trade agenda “is incredibly strong and diverse” and growing stronger by the day.

“When people hear about it, they’re outraged,” Stamoulis said.

Froman cited examples of how tariffs hurt farmers:

 In California, growers sent $8 billion of tree nuts to global destinations last year, with nearly a quarter of those exports to Trans-Pacific Partnership countries, some of which impose a tariff of up to 30 percent.

Similarly, Texas beef and veal growers face tariffs of up to 50 percent in some TPP countries.

 Missouri soybeans pay a tariff of up to 30 percent.


 And Washington state growers contend with tariffs of up to 17 percent on their world-famous apples.

“You can just go state by state, and product by product. … What we’re trying to do through this trade agreement is level the playing field for our exports,” Froman said, predicting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will end up creating “great new opportunities” for U.S. farmers.

He said it would still be months before Congress votes on the trade pact, adding: “We’re still negotiating. But we’re making a lot of progress, almost across the board now.”

Vilsack insisted the Trans-Pacific Partnership would mean a big boost for U.S. farm income.

To get the deal passed, he said, farmers must be “making the phone calls, sending the emails, making the visits and going to the town-hall meetings so that members of Congress hear another side.”

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