We have been skeptical that there could be Congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, before next year’s election given the great partisan divide between the White House and Congressional Democrats.
But last week, even as the House was deep into televised impeachment hearings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were close to a deal with the Trump administration that would add more protections for the environment and workers to the pact.
That’s good news if the pact comes up for a vote and is ratified.
People have been complaining about various provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement since the first President Bush negotiated it and President Clinton signed it. It was one of the trade deals Donald Trump railed against in the 2016 campaign.
Farmers in the United States generally have benefited from NAFTA. But there are sticking points.
Wheat growers, for example, say the pact has opened up the Mexican market, increasing exports by 400%.
At the same time, Canadian wheat sold at an elevator in the U.S. is rated the same as if it were produced here. But U.S. wheat delivered to an elevator in Canada is rated as feed wheat and priced accordingly. There’s no incentive for U.S. farmers to take wheat to Canada, but Canadian farmers are on an equal footing with U.S. producers when they sell here.
Dairymen take issue with Canada, too. U.S. and Mexican dairy groups have a common interest in pressing for better treatment when products go north.
U.S. labor unions opposed NAFTA from the start. They said it would facilitate companies moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico. They were right.
Trump reopened talks on NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. The product of those negotiations was the USMCA. Those terms were formally accepted Nov. 1, 2018, and the deal was put before Congress.
Farm groups have generally supported the changes in the new deal. But until it’s ratified, NAFTA remains in force.
Democrats in Congress have not been keen on handing the president a legislative victory, even if the final deal addresses their constituents’ concerns. But political realities point to the need for action on the new treaty.
National media reports suggest that Democrats in Midwestern farm and industrial districts where Trump won in 2016 have pressed their leadership to move the deal for a vote so that they will have something positive to run on next November.
Two Democratic senators — Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown — worked hard on tweaks to USMCA to make it more palatable to fellow Democrats. Oregon farmers and Ohio auto workers would benefit from USMCA.
House Democrats have been working on it, too. Now the speaker says it’s possible the reworked USMCA could get a vote before the end of the year.
If Congress approves USMCA, we don’t care who claims the credit. The real winners will be farmers and ranchers who will have more favorable terms when dealing with two of our largest trading partners.