A trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada is likely to pass Congress with little problem if political leaders pursue it, agricultural leaders say.
“Very, very few” unresolved issues remain between members of Congress and the administration in finalizing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, said Tom Vilsack, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Council.
USMCA is the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Vilsack said sufficient work appears to have been done in USMCA to strengthen, improve and modernize NAFTA, leaving no reason for it not to pass.
“This is something that can be done, needs to be done,” Vilsack said. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is working to create the sense of a deadline and push the agreement forward, Vilsack said.
“Congress works oftentimes when it is confronted with a deadline,” Vilsack said. “If it’s one or two issues, then get it done. No reason not to get it done today, no reason to wait for tomorrow, no reason to wait for 2020. Let’s get it done now.”
Vilsack spoke during a Dec. 3 phone call hosted by the nonprofit organization Farmers for Free Trade.
More than 2,200 farmers signed a letter asking Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to quickly pass USMCA, according to the organization.
“Farmers are hurting,” said Brian Kuehl, co-executive director of Farmers for Free Trade. “The trade war, the trade disruption, the uncertainty of the last few years have really decimated the farm economy. Farmers are down and they’re down hard. Farmers are losing their farms, there are bankruptcies that are happening, farm suicides have been increasing. Farmers are pushed to the brink.”
Those who aren’t losing their farms aren’t able to buy new tractors or combines, Kuehl said.
“That ripples through rural America,” he said. “The ag equipment dealer that can’t sell a combine, the Main Street business that isn’t selling equipment from their hardware store, the local schools that don’t have the sales tax revenue to support a bond initiative. Rural America is hurting because of the trade war and trade disruptions. ... Farmers need this win and they need this win now.”
Passing the agreement in 2019 to provide trade certainty with Mexico and Canada is one of the “single biggest things” that would reverse the trend, Kuehl said.
“Since it’s going to get done, why not get it done now?” Vilsack asked. “Why not just finish the work and get it done so the farmers and workers, the people out in the countryside whose livelihoods depend on this, have the confidence and reassurance that next year is going to be better than this year?”
Farmers for Free Trade is a bipartisan nonprofit organization formed in 2017 to tell people about the importance of free trade and helping farmers and ranchers support free trade agreements.