Now that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement has broken the log jam in the U.S. House, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is turning its focus to getting it ratified.

“A lot of hard work’s been done, but the hardest part is still ahead of us,” Kent Bacus, NCBA senior director of international trade and market access, said.

The important thing is to get it moving. With so much in play on Capitol Hill, including impeachment and spending bills, it’s easy to put USMCA on the back burner, he said.

“This has to be a top-priority issue. This is something that has to move forward,” he said.

NCBA has been engaged in USMCA to make sure the new agreement retains all the benefits of its predecessor — the North American Free Trade Agreement — and those benefits were big, he said.

“Under NAFTA, we had duty-free, unrestricted access to Canada and Mexico,” he said.

That meant the U.S. could sell as much beef as it wanted without any tariffs, developing a $1 billion export market in Canada and Mexico, he said.

Securing USMCA is critical in ensuring continued access, but it’s also important for expanding market access elsewhere, he said.

Ratifying the agreement “sends the message to the rest of the world that we have a unified government, that the executive branch can negotiate in good faith with our trade partners knowing that Congress will support that decision,” he said.

That’s important for U.S. beef producers because the industry needs better access to a lot of other markets, he said.

“Every single one of our major competitors are out there securing better market access to the same markets that are very good for U.S. beef,” he said.

The industry needs to continue to focus on opening markets. It needs to focus on other developing markets and strengthening markets throughout Asia. There’s also the potential for a trade agreement with Britain, which might soon be leaving the EU, he said.

But the U.S. is not able to focus on other markets “until we prove we have a solid relationship with our next-door neighbors,” he said.

Ratifying USMCA would send a strong message that “when we negotiate, we will stand by it,” he said.

“We need to send that positive message to the rest of the world,” he said.

House Democrats had withheld support for USMCA primarily because of concerns over labor and enforcement. Many now support the agreement, feeling those concerns have been met. That provides a much better likelihood that it will pass, he said.

Ratification stands a pretty good chance in the Senate with its Republican majority, and a lot of senators seem to want to move forward. The kink there is the Senate might have to focus all its attention on impeachment, he said.

Despite newfound support in the House and pretty good support in the Senate, beef producers need to stay engaged in the matter. Traditionally, trade bills only pass by a handful of votes, he said.

“It’s usually pretty close,” he said.

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