In a unified, bipartisan effort, current and previous agriculture secretaries -- including current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and former secretaries of agriculture Tom Vilsack, Dan Glickman and John Block -- held a joint press conference reiterating their support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
Canada and Mexico are the largest and second-largest export markets for U.S. food and agricultural products, respectively, totaling more than $39.7 billion food and agricultural exports in 2018. These exports support more than 325,000 American jobs.
John Block, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of agriculture in 1981-85, said it’s time for Congress to recognize that USMCA will never be perfect and that there will always be small things that could still be fixed. He said the important thing is to get a trade agreement passed with two of our closest neighbors and trading partners.
“I’m standing here today to encourage everyone to move forward,” Block said.
Vilsack said passing USMCA won't be an instant boon for farmers, but it will offer a psychological boost of confidence that an agreement can get negotiated and ratified. Vilsack said it also has the potential to build momentum for other trade agreements, including a potential Japan-U.S. agreement.
Glickman added that passing USMCA is not only the right thing to do for farmers, workers and those in the food industry, but it also makes geopolitical sense to have a strong agreement with our two closest allies.
All food and agricultural products that enjoy zero tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will remain at zero tariffs. Since the original NAFTA did not eliminate all tariffs on agricultural trade between the U.S. and Canada, USMCA will create new market access opportunities for U.S. exports to Canada of dairy, poultry and eggs; in exchange, the U.S. will provide new access to Canada for some dairy, peanut and a limited amount of sugar and sugar-containing products.
“President [Donald] Trump has fulfilled a promise, which many said couldn’t be done: to renegotiate NAFTA and improve the standing of the entire American economy, including the agriculture sector,” Perdue said. “Support for USMCA crosses all political parties, specifically when it comes to the agriculture community, and I am proud to stand side by side with former agriculture secretaries who agree USMCA is good news for American farmers. I commend President Trump and [U.S. Trade Representative] Ambassador [Robert] Lighthizer for their perseverance, leadership and hard work to get USMCA across the finish line.”
In addition, in a letter to leaders in Congress, all of the former agriculture secretaries since the Reagan Administration underscored the importance of passing USMCA, saying, “We need a strong and reliable trade deal with our top two customers for U.S. agriculture products. USMCA will provide certainty in the North American market for the U.S. farm sector and rural economy. We strongly support ratification of USMCA.”
The letter added: “By increasing agricultural exports, this will generate more farm production, which is a major engine of U.S. economic growth. The food and agriculture industry is worth $1 trillion, which is 5% of the U.S. gross domestic product.
“With farmers facing one of the lowest net farm incomes in the last decade, USMCA would create enhanced export opportunities and help fully capitalize on increased global demand for food products. Furthermore, USMCA would significantly boost farm incomes and create jobs both on and off the farm in rural communities,” the letter stated.
The U.S. International Trade Commission’s recent economic analysis concluded that USMCA would benefit the U.S. agriculture sector and would deliver an additional $2.2 billion in U.S. economic activity.
During a media roundtable hosted by the Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Land O’Lakes president and chief executive officer Beth Ford urged Congress to pass USMCA. She also discussed the significance of USMCA for American farmers and workers.
Ford said there’s a lot of uncertainty in the economy right now, whether due to trade tensions and global growth. Weather complications have also been a major challenge for farmers.
“One way for policy-makers to bring stability back and help American workers is pass implementing legislation for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. This is significant, at $1.4 trillion in trade and 12 million American jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico,” she said. “For agriculture, this is a $40 billion market. That has grown; this had quintupled since the advent of NAFTA.”
Ford said the Business Roundtable urges Democrats and Republicans to pass USMCA implementing legislation this year so U.S. workers and businesses benefit from this modernized trade deal.