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Farmers Union seeks USMCA changes

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NFU warns USMCA provisions on pharmaceuticals, labor and environment could place U.S. farmers at a disadvantage.

In step with many Democrat-touted changes, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said the “U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) would be a success with the inclusion of proposals to strengthen labor, environment, enforcement and prescription drug provisions.”

While the Trump Administration could send its implementing bill for USMCA to Congress this week, speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) has issued a warning not to send the bill before Democrats' concerns with the labor, environmental, pharmaceutical and enforcement provisions of the bill are handled.

In writing to Pelosi and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Cal.), NFU president Roger Johnson said modest yet important changes could “help reduce health care costs and bring jobs back to rural America – key issues for America’s family farmers.”

Johnson noted that export markets are crucial for U.S. farmers, and Canada and Mexico are the leading export markets for U.S. agricultural products.

“However, for farmers and rural communities to remain strong, they need more than high export values,” Johnson wrote. “The increasing cost of health care -- a top concern among NFU members -- is eating into already shrinking farm revenue. Farmers are increasingly dependent on off-farm employment to make ends meet, but many rural manufacturing and other jobs are moving to foreign markets with cheaper labor and lower environmental standards.”

Johnson said Democrat-proposed changes to USMCA would help address these issues. “Labor, environment and enforcement standards must be strengthened to help to keep jobs in rural communities,” he emphasized.

Farming is a notoriously precarious profession. In 2014, there were an estimated 58,000 adult farm injuries, yet nearly half of farmers are not confident that they could cover the costs of treatment for a major illness or injury without going into debt.

NFU said all Americans should have access to effective health care, but given the added risks of agricultural professions, it is particularly critical that legislators work to improve coverage and affordability in rural areas. USMCA’s prescription drug provision would “limit the actions Congress can take to reduce prescription drug prices,” Johnson noted, and as such, it “must be rectified to allow for future reductions in health care costs.”

As written, USMCA would grant pharmaceutical companies marketing exclusivity for biologic drugs for a minimum of 10 years. If approved, this rule would prevent Congress from acting to hasten the entrance of lower-cost generic drugs to the market.

The Administration delivered its draft statement of administrative action to Congress on May 30. Now that more than 30 days have passed, the Trump Administration could follow with its implementing bill. Agricultural groups had hoped that Congress would tackle USMCA ahead of the August recess. However, that looks less likely, as there are just 12 legislative days left before the recess, and no deal has been brokered on shepherding a deal across the finish line.

TAGS: Policy
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