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January 12, 2016

Administration’s TPP Honey SOTU Guest: Falsely Sweet Story Exemplifies TPP Sales Job

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. Obama SOTU guest Ronna Rice and her company Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey should be congratulated on their success. Tomorrow the President will no doubt talk about how the TPP will help her sell more honey. Yet like much of the White House TPP sale job, the nice narrative is not supported by the facts. Here’s why you shouldn’t swallow this falsely sweet example:

  • U.S. honey exports to eight of the 11 other TPP nations (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore) already are duty free without the TPP! So, why is Ms. Rice and her firm being pitched as benefitting from the TPP?
  • Vietnam has a 10% tariff that goes away on day one of a TPP, but they won’t be importing our honey: Vietnam is the United States’ second largest source of honey imports. (We import a lot of honey from Vietnam.)
  • Malaysia is our sixth largest import source, which is curious given the country has fewer than 60 commercial bee operations. (Answer: Malaysia is implicated in the China honey transshipment scam. There’s a large U.S. anti-dumping order against Chinese honey now.) 
  • As far as how Ms. Rice and Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey will be affected, both Vietnam and Malaysia newly would get duty-free access into the U.S. market on day one of a TPP rather than have to pay our current 1.9 cent per kilo tariff on their imports. Like usual, the administration only hypes inflated export claims, but fails to consider imports or the net effect of a trade pact.
  • Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey focusses mainly on the U.S. market ... That is typical for U.S. small businesses. Exporting is mainly the realm of big business. Only 3 percent of U.S. small and medium enterprises export any good to any country. In contrast, 38 percent of large U.S. firms are exporters. The White House line about small businesses being the largest number of U.S. exporting firms is just a reflection of the fact that 99.7 percent of U.S. businesses meet the “less than 500 employees” definition of SMEs. 
  • So what is the ostensible upside for Ms. Rice and her firm?? Tiny New Zealand’s 10% tariff goes away day one of a TPP ... Its population is the same as the Boston metro area, but its purchasing power is lower. So, NZ is not the prize. 
  • So … it boils down to Japan. There’s a 25.5% tariff on honey in Japan now, which goes to zero in year eight of the TPP. BUT, even though the United States sells quite a bit of honey in Japan now, China flattens us in Japan with respect to relative market share.

The real TPP story for Lucky Clover honey is not so sweet. For the years until the Japan-Korea-China FTA goes into effect, would the TPP tariff cut increase the U.S. share of Japan’s imported honey market relative to China? And more critically, would any such exports gains in Japan even make up for the increased imports of duty-free Vietnam and Malaysia honey into the United States under the TPP – more import competition in the firm’s main market? 

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