Fair push for USMCA08/15/2019 |
By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer
The Iowa State Fair was created to celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage. It’s an event dedicated to showcasing the successes and opportunities in Iowa agriculture. This year, it was the perfect setting to reinforce the importance of passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“Along with the great tradition of production and innovation that you see in the state of Iowa, we know that we are going to continue to be productive, but we need to have markets for our products and our producers,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said during a roundtable event supporting the USMCA with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Blanche Lincoln, a former U.S. Senator from Arkansas.
Benefits to soybeans
U.S. soybean farmers have already witnessed the benefits of trade with Canada and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which was passed in 1994. Since then, soybean exports have quadrupled to Mexico and doubled to Canada. U.S. soy exports to Canada and Mexico were almost $3 billion in 2017, according to the American Soybean Association (ASA). Mexico is now the second largest export market for U.S. soybeans and soy meal. A total of $43 billion of U.S. agriculture products are exported to Canada and Mexico every year.
The USMCA is seen as an updated version of NAFTA, Grassley said.
“I like to think in terms of NAFTA being a 25-year-old agreement that we all know has been very, very good for agriculture. But after 25 years it’s outdated. There’s a lot of things in this agreement that brings an update—digital environments we’re in now, the intellectual property it’s going to protect … that brings about new jobs and new investments in America,” Grassley said.
Lincoln voted for NAFTA when she was a senator in 1993. She said USMCA is an “amazing opportunity” for the United States.
“We want to … make our farmers whole, but we also want to empower them to do what it is they do best. And that is to farm,” Lincoln said. She now works with the non-profit Farmers for Free Trade. “Opening up these markets, making sure we get fair agreements and that we are moving forward in a consensus of what is going to make a difference for everybody.”
Grassley, who sits on the Senate finance committee, shed some light on the future of the agreement and the process by which to get the deal signed.
“It will start in the House of Representatives and the clock starts to tick when the president presents the agreement to the House of Representatives. And it’s our advice to the president: Don’t push Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi until she’s ready for it,” Grassley said.
He said Pelosi is working with a large freshman class and sifting through the issues they came to Washington, D.C. to protect. Grassley said he has made himself available to Speaker Pelosi to talk through some of the sticking points of the agreement—like environmental and labor concerns. Those issues can be worked out through side agreements or annexes to the signed agreement without having to reopen negotiations, Grassley said.
Speaker Pelosi has the ability to give the go-ahead on the USMCA even if the majority of her caucus doesn’t agree to the agreement, Grassley said.
“If she’s willing to go ahead with a minority of her caucus, then I think more Republicans will vote for it. That means it would get the 218 votes required to get through the House, and since I’m chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction over this in the Senate, we will move that (USMCA) very quickly,” Grassley said. “I think it will have a much easier job getting through the Senate than it does through the House of Representatives.”
How farmers can be involved
Mexico became the first country to ratify and pass the USMCA earlier this summer. Canada has said it has the votes to pass it, which could come in September when the Canadian Parliament reconvenes, Grassley said.
This month, while members of the U.S. Congress are back in their districts, is the perfect time to talk about the importance of the USMCA to farmers, industries and communities.
“This is precisely the time to engage in a productive, positive way,” Naig said. “We put our heads down and do what we do in agriculture. Frankly, this year has been a challenging year,” Naig said. “But now’s the time to pull up and take time to have your voice heard.”
As presidential hopefuls trek through the fairgrounds and through the state, Grassley said they should be asked about their position on USMCA.
“You should not be campaigning in Iowa without being fully supportive of something that is very, very helpful to agriculture generally, but particularly to Iowa,” Grassley said.
Contact Bethany Baratta at email@example.com.
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