Nashville Whiskey Distiller, Other Supporters Of Pacific Trade Deal Wonder What Comes Next

Jan 24, 2017

It was one of the clearest promises President Trump made on the campaign trail: He'd renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement hammered out by his predecessor.

Charlie Nelson was hoping for the deal to go through anyway somehow. Now, the president of Green Brier Distillery in Nashville is trying to stay optimistic another trade deal will soon take the TPP's place.

"It's tough to say, though," he says. "There's just so much unknown going on, and it's hard to really understand what's going on."

In Tennessee, farmers and food producers were among the biggest supporters of President Obama's plans to expand free trade around the Pacific Rim. They hoped the deal would open new markets for their exports.

But this week, President Donald Trump reversed that proposal's course, and the deal's backers are uncertain where his administration heads next.

Even some of Trump's closest economic advisors say it's hard to predict what comes next. In an interview with NPR News, economist Stephen Moore said he hoped Trump would work out a new free trade agreement with Asian countries but he couldn't be sure.

It would be unlikely to come quickly. The Trans-Pacific Partnership took nearly a decade to draft, with the earliest talks taking place under a previous Republican president, George W. Bush.

It was finished in late 2015, just as the U.S. presidential campaign was heating up. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton said it was a bad deal.

Distillers — along with other big Tennessee exporters like record labels, soybean farmers and dairy producers — were major TPP boosters. As late as October, they took part in a series of promotional events in Nashville, in the hope of salvaging the agreement.

Asia has been a booming market for them. They argued the agreement would lower tariffs on their exports to the pact's signatories and provided stronger protections for American trademarks.

To keep growing overseas, TPP's former supporters say they need the Trump administration to hurry back to the bargaining table. The Distilled Spirits Council, of which Green Brier is a member, said it was "looking forward" to working with Trump on a plan that would improve access to foreign markets.

Nelson says his company is still too small to make a major splash overseas. But he hopes an agreement will be in place when he's ready.

"All trade agreements are complex," he says. "Especially in today's world, it's hard to get a one-page agreement on anything."