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Clock ticking on USMCA passage

Food and ag industry sent more than 10,000 letters to Congress in support of USMCA.

UPDATE 11/16/2019: Senator Ron Wyden was incorrectly identified as a Democratic senator from Wyoming. He's from Oregon. This story has been corrected.

It has been nearly a year since President Donald Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and its fate remains unknown, with fewer than 20 legislatives days left for Congress to bring it up this calendar year.

Last week, farm-state senators took to the floor to call for passage of USMCA.

“I come to the Senate floor today to express a growing worry: The Democratically controlled House of Representatives looks increasingly less likely to act this year on USMCA. That threatens passage of the trilateral trade deal this Congress, as next year is a presidential election year,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).

“For months now, House Democrats have said they are working on it, that they’re making progress, that they’re optimistic they can get to ‘yes.’ But conspicuously absent from their pronouncements are any mention of a date or timeline. With every passing month, these seem less like good-faith assurances and more like stalling tactics,” Grassley stated.

After meeting with U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer on Oct. 23, the leader of the Democratic USMCA Working Group and House Ways & Means chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.) told reporters, "I actually feel pretty good about this." Although specifics on the ongoing negotiations between the two parties are unknown, Neal said, "we have really narrowed our differences considerably.” 

Yet, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) stated that there is still work to be done on the agreement. “While the new NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] includes some important improvements to the existing agreement, there is still work to be done to get the best deal for American workers and consumers,” he said in a floor speech.

Wyden said he has real concerns about the trade enforcement provisions. He also challenged the notion that USMCA passage offers certainty.

“During this overhaul, the original NAFTA remains in place," he said. "Workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses should not have to go to bed at night fearing that economic uncertainty will rob them of their livelihoods. The uncertainty only arises when the President acts out and makes impulsive threats regarding our trade relationships. When the President threatened new tariffs on Mexico this June over immigration policy, that creates far more uncertainty than taking the time necessary to get this deal right.

“American workers and farmers have already been hurt by the President’s impulses. More will get hurt if Trump’s threats and chaos cause the Congress to accept a bad deal on NAFTA,” Wyden said.

Meanwhile, food and beverage industry workers recently sent more than 10,000 individual letters to members of Congress to urge passage of USMCA, according to food industry associations pushing for USMCA approval. This letter campaign is just one part of a growing national grassroots effort urging Congress to act on USMCA this year.

The letters emphasized the economic benefits that a ratified USMCA will bring to the U.S. business community and consumers alike. Coordinated by the Corn Refiners Assn., the effort featured participation by the Food Marketing Institute, National Restaurant Assn., International Dairy Foods Assn., North American Meat Institute, National Milk Producers Federation and other members of the USMCA Coalition.

“The agriculture-related benefits of North American trade reach far into our economy. More than 70% of the agriculture-related jobs created by NAFTA were outside of the farm sector. American food and beverage workers are telling their members of Congress that we urgently need approval of USMCA,” Corn Refiners Assn. president and chief executive officer John Bode. “Both parties need to set politics aside and pass this important trade agreement.”

In recent weeks, members of the USMCA Coalition have been urging members of Congress to announce their support for the agreement. The coalition has reminded Congress that the food and agriculture industry is the economic backbone of rural America and an essential driver of the overall economy, accounting for one-fifth of American economic activity.

“America’s dairy industry is proud to help feed the world through the export of healthy and high-quality dairy products, but we need certainty in our trade relationships to continue this mission,” U.S. Dairy Export Council president and CEO Tom Vilsack said. “Congress has a chance to deliver this much-needed certainty and other benefits by swiftly passing USMCA. This modernized trade deal will bring new opportunities for American agriculture and demonstrate to our trading partners that the United States is serious about securing fair and reciprocal trade agreements.”

Under the predecessor agreement to USMCA, American food and agriculture annual exports to Canada and Mexico grew more than 400%, exceeding $40 billion. USMCA, in addition to securing existing market opportunities, will provide enhanced market access for dairy, poultry and eggs, establish modern, science-based sanitary and phytosanitary standards that are the gold standard for future trade agreements and simplify customs procedures. Building on previously established market access and modernizing non-tariff measures, USMCA will deepen the export competitiveness of U.S. food and agriculture, boosting U.S. jobs and economic security.

TAGS: Policy
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