Pushing USMCA Across Goal Line

Republicans, Ag Groups, Businesses Call on House Democrats to Vote on Trade Pact

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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As fall football season ramps up, supporters of the USMCA are determined to get the trade deal across the goal line before presidential politics potentially blocks ratification of the trade pact in 2020. (DTN image courtesy of goodfreephotos.com)

OMAHA (DTN) -- With Congress back from its recess, Republicans and much of the agricultural establishment are determined to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) across the goal line this fall.

The push from agriculture is coming from several fronts this week as Trump administration officials, trade groups and businesses took to social media on Tuesday to champion the new trade deal and convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring USMCA to a vote.

Agriculture as an industry has been among the biggest advocates for USMCA passage, as 950 groups and businesses signed a letter in May calling on Congress to ratify the deal.

Adopted to upgrade the North American Free Trade Agreement, USMCA was signed on Nov. 30 of last year. Mexico's Senate ratified the trade deal in June, but legislation for USMCA has not been introduced in Congress. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to officially announce national elections on Wednesday that would lead to a national vote on Oct. 21, meaning Canada's Parliament would not take up the trade deal until after that election.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday that passing the USMCA was one topic that came up at nearly all of the town hall meetings he held over the August break. Grassley said Congress should take action sooner rather than later.

"We ought to deliver certainty and new market access for American farmers, small-business owners, workers of every stripe," Grassley said, noting he had a "productive conversation" earlier this summer with Pelosi. "I walked away from that conversation with a very optimistic feeling that she wanted to get to yes."

Grassley said he remains optimistic, but House Democrats need to reach an agreement with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who has been negotiating with congressional Democrats over provisions in the trade pact. Grassley stressed the importance of getting USMCA passed before the calendar turns to 2020 and the presidential election.

"Then a lot of controversial things like USMCA don't get passed," Grassley said, pointing out that work in Congress slows down during major political campaigns.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNBC on Tuesday the Trump administration hopes to get the agreement through Congress "within the next 30 to 60 days." Navarro said he was confident the trade agreement would pass before the end of the year.

An International Trade Commission report last spring projects USMCA would create 176,000 new jobs by its sixth year and increase gross domestic product by $68.2 billion. U.S. exports to Canada would rise by $19 billion and exports to Mexico would increase by $14 billion.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted at least five times Tuesday about USMCA, while most other cabinet members also weighed in. Perdue tweeted that passing USMCA would end Canada's Class 7 milk pricing scheme and open more dairy access for U.S. farmers.

Perdue also tweeted, "Last year, we exported nearly $40 billion worth of agricultural goods to our valuable allies to our north and south. Passing #USMCA will make a good trade relationship even better."

The National Farmers Union, during a fly-in to Washington this week, passed a resolution unanimously calling for Congress to strengthen the USMCA before final passage. The trade deal should have better labor, environment and enforcement provisions, improve language on prescription drugs and improve anti-dumping provisions for agriculture. And tying in a key NFU passion, USMCA should re-establish country-of-origin labeling for agricultural products.

"USMCA must meet these standards -- currently it falls short," NFU's resolution states. NFU's board is withholding conclusive judgement on the trade deal while negotiations continue.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee posted a tweet Tuesday with a picture of a pig and the word "NAFTA" above it side by side with the same pig wearing lipstick and sunglasses with the word "USMCA" above it. The tweet stated, "Bottom line: #USMCA needs more muscle than #NAFTA. Dems are committed to an enforceable trade deal that delivers for workers and ALL Americans."

The GOP Ways and Means Twitter feed later countered, "#USMCA will promote American agriculture interest in two of our most important markets -- Canada and Mexico. Each day this agreement is delayed, farmers and ranchers lose money, jobs, and markets."

On Thursday, national farm organizations will hold a press event at the U.S. Capitol with House members from both parties, including Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Former Obama administration Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, also is expected to speak at the event.

In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts will hold a press event Wednesday at the farm show Husker Harvest Days with leaders from eight different farm organizations to champion passage of the trade deal.

Iowa Farm Bureau joined 79 Iowa businesses and groups urging Congress to approve USMCA. Passing the trade agreement is key for agriculture in the state, said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

"For Iowa farmers, the importance of USMCA is simple: One out of every three acres of crop [production] is exported; one out of every four pigs are sent to markets outside our borders. That growth must continue if farming in Iowa is to remain sustainable, as farm exports make up a huge portion of farmers' and ranchers' income," Hill said.

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

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Chris Clayton