While speaking at a rally that concluded a 20,000-mile, two-month campaign for passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on Thursday, House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and other members of Congress offered optimism for a floor vote on the trade deal in the next few months.
Peterson said he met Monday night with House Ways & Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.). “He was confident of a vote within the next month or two,” Peterson said of his discussions with Neal, adding that he also knows that speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) is “working hard to build support in our caucus.”
“I think we’re on track, at least at this point,” he added.
Peterson was quick to point out that he didn’t vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 25 years ago, but he was a strong and early supporter of the agreement that now awaits action by Congress because it preserves the advances made for agriculture and improves access for dairy producers.
House Ways & Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R., Texas) said the August recess built a lot of momentum for final passage of USMCA. He said the deal is now at the 20-yard line and said the time to act is now. He added that USMCA passage won’t be a win just for Republicans or Democrats but a win for the American people. “I’m confident we can get this agreement to the President’s desk this year,” he said. “We can’t delay any longer.”
Rep. Henry Cueller (D., Texas), another Democrat at the rally Thursday, offered optimism for seeing the vote pass, noting, “I feel very confident Pelosi will put it out for a vote.” Cueller said he had a Wednesday night meeting with other members on a counterproposal offered by U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. A statement from a USTR spokesman confirmed that Lighthizer sent letters Wednesday in response to House Democrats’ concern but offered no additional details on the deal.
Cueller said the environment is very different during this trade discussion than in past trade votes. In talking with freshman Democrats, he said many have asked how agriculture will be affected by this bill. “We’ve got some folks who vote no, but in between, a lot of folks feel it is different,” he said.
“Farmers and ranchers don’t want bailouts,” Cueller added. He said those long-term contracts are hard to regain once lost, but this trade agreement makes pure economic sense.
Peterson and Cueller were flanked by members on both sides of the aisle, and many offered their own call for action on USMCA in Congress. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R., Pa.) added that one-fifth of all farm income comes from international trade. Rep. Jim Costa (D., Cal.) said no agreement would be disastrous, and the agreement on the table offers substantial improvements over NAFTA.
In addition, leading agricultural groups came to the mic in an effort to tout the importance of USMCA for U.S. agriculture.
Tom Vilsack, former U.S. secretary of agriculture and current chief executive officer and president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said it's not just 2.5 million farmers who are dependent on the vote but also the 43 million Americans who work in the food and agricultural sectors, or roughly 28% of America’s workforce. He said it is important to determine if this deal is enforceable, but once members of Congress are convinced that it is enforceable, it’s not hard to recognize that USMCA is better for American agriculture -- and for American dairy producers, it’s “absolutely better.”
USMCA secures the valuable relationship U.S. dairy shares with Mexico while establishing new protections for common cheese names and makes important changes to Canada’s trade-distorting dairy policies while also opening new opportunities for U.S. dairy exports to Canada, Vilsack said.
National Association of Wheat Growers president Ben Scholz said wheat producers export 50% of their production. “Agriculture desperately needs a win in trade, and passing the USMCA will put us in the right direction. Once in place, USMCA will bring jobs and more certainty to rural America and across the United States,” he said.
“We’re at the finish line, and we’re ready to see it happen,” Scholz said.