Ag Policy Blog

Already, USMCA is Losing its Summer Window for Passage

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement likely is just days away from carrying into at least next fall before Congress can move into ratification votes.

If it were up to most agricultural groups and businesses, the USMCA would be cruising towards final approval in Congress, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

On Monday, 67 agricultural and food groups, along with associated companies, wrote congressional leaders that they "strongly support ratification" of the USMCA. The groups stated the new deal will help food and agricultural trade and expand U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico. The groups pointed to the International Trade Commission's report released in late April that cited the USMCA would be positive across the U.S. economy and would be "a positive impact on the U.S. agriculture sector." The report cited U.S. ag exports would increase about $2.2 billion.

The 67 agricultural groups represented bakers, dairy, corn, cotton, soybeans, pork, turkey chicken, feed, wheat, egg, rice, cherry, pear and ice producers along with several major businesses in each of those industries. https://www.idfa.org/…

Canada and Mexico right now account for $45 billion in U.S. agricultural exports now, though agricultural exports have been hindered by retaliatory tariffs stemming from steel and aluminum tariffs the Trump Administration placed on Canada and Mexico last year.

The steel and aluminum tariffs loom large, but it was clear from a meeting President Donald Trump had with a handful of GOP senators last week that the president is unwilling to drop his tariffs. The Trump Administration sees them as a continuing bargain chip to try go get steel and aluminum import quotas in exchange for giving up the tariffs.

In a USA Today article last week, former New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, honorary chairman of the Pass USMCA Coalition, said "I think it's doable" to the idea that there is time for Congress to approve the trade deal before lawmakers go on their August recess. https://www.usatoday.com/…

Yeah, that dog won't hunt.

The White House and industry might be pressuring Congress for a vote, but the treaty still hasn't been sent to Congress. Under the law, there are some specific timelines that have to happen.

While the International Trade Commission report is now done, Congress has a chance to hold "mock markups" of the legislation as a way to convey their issues to the Trump Administration before the physical bill is sent to lawmakers.

Trump Administration officials, such as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, keep calling for Congress to quickly ratify the trade deal. Perdue wrote an op-ed in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette on Sunday urging quick approval. https://www.thegazette.com/…

Congress can't begin to act, though, until the White House officially sends over the USCMA text to Capitol Hill. Prior to any vote, the administration must submit the text to Congress at least 30 days before a bill is formally introduced. That should be the next step in the ratification process.

Once that 30 days is up, the final text is submitted to Congress and a bill can be introduced, but there is no assurance that has to happen right after 30 days. If the White House sent up the text this week, it would still be early June before the actual legislation would be introduced.

When the actual bill is introduced, then the two major committees in Congress that would address it -- Senate Finance and House Ways and Means -- can take up to 45 days to bring the bill to the floor of their respective chambers. The two committees can do this concurrently. Because the bill includes tariffs, making it a revenue bill, USMCA must pass the House first.

Ways and Means must report a bill after 45 days are up, or it becomes automatically discharged. The House would then have a maximum of 15 days to vote on the bill. The Senate, through its committee time and floor time, can take up to another 30 days to vote after the House, if senators use their full allotted time.

At this point, even if the Senate were to run lockstep with the House, the USMCA runs head on into the congressional August recess.

The House is scheduled to go recess in 81 days, the last week of July, and the Senate is scheduled to go on recess a week later. To get the USMCA passed before then, the administration has to submit the text to Congress right now and push lawmakers not to drag the maximum timelines for committee and floor votes. Otherwise, USMCA votes will carry into next fall, at a minimum.

The Congressional Research Service details Trade Promotion Authority and the timeline for trade deals under the law. https://fas.org/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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