By Mark Wagoner: Touchet, Washington
Time is ticking on trade—and our political leaders in Washington, DC must act immediately to protect American agriculture.
Farmers like me expressed relief two months ago upon the conclusion of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade accord that updates NAFTA for the 21st century.
Yet all of the hard work that went into this deal won’t amount to anything if President Trump and the current Congress refuse to push for its passage by the end of this year.
It’s pretty simple: The next House of Representatives, which will assemble under Democratic control on January 3, most likely won’t approve a trade agreement negotiated by President Trump’s team.
It just won’t happen. President Trump could propose a bill that says the sun should come up tomorrow and House Democrats would vote against it. Their plan is to oppose every aspect of the president’s legislative agenda.
That’s why Washington must move forward on the USMCA right now. Failing to act would throw us back into the confusion and uncertainty we’ve been living with for far too long.
I had thought that with the USMCA, we’d finally gotten past the turmoil of the last few years. President Trump once called NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.” Farmers worried that he’d make good on his threats to pull out—and hoped that he’d come up with a different solution because we rely on exports to Canada and Mexico.
Then came the USMCA, which the president quickly hailed as a “wonderful new trade deal.”
In truth, the agreements aren’t much different for agriculture: “The new USMCA looks a lot like the old NAFTA,” according to an analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
That’s good enough for me: NAFTA was a significant agreement for farmers, supporting new opportunities for us to sell what we grow to customers in Canada and Mexico. I’d be happy to stick with the status quo.
The USMCA does make a significant improvement for U.S. agriculture: Under its provisions, American dairy farmers will gain better access to Canadian customers.
To be sure, the USMCA has a few faults, such as a sunset provision. This means that the trade agreement will terminate in 16 years unless its signatories act to renew it. This sets us up for another grueling fight, albeit one that we can put off for a while. I’m more than ready to be done with the grueling fights of recent years.
Whatever the details of the USMCA, one essential fact dwarfs everything else: Approval of the USMCA would allow us at last to move beyond a fruitless trade war with Canada and Mexico. It’s time to make peace with our two closest and most reliable trading partners.
Once we get the USMCA signed, sealed, and delivered, we can turn our attention to our more important disputes with China, whose tariffs have devastated farmers across my state, which exported $15 billion in agricultural goods last year. Whether we grow alfalfa, apples, cherries, or potatoes, we’ve felt the pinch. The same is true for farmers who produce other commodities in different areas of the country.
We need these trade wars to end—and the first step is to ratify the USMCA. The president must submit the pact to the current Congress as soon as possible.
That’s what a dozen Republican senators urged him to do last week. “We stand ready to assist in helping you secure a pathway” for its passage, they wrote in a letter.
Sen. Pat Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who organized the letter, offered additional thoughts in the Wall Street Journal . “Entrusting House Democrats with passing the USMCA is a dicey proposition, at best,” he wrote in an op-ed. “The new Democratic majority in the House also might indefinitely stall passage of USMCA, goading the president into responding with the ‘nuclear option’—a unilateral withdrawal from the exiting NAFTA. This would be disastrous for the American economy.”
Let’s avoid this disaster—and get behind the USMCA before it’s too late.
Mark Wagoner is a third-generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed. Mark volunteers as a Board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).
*This column first appeared at The Seattle Times Nov 28.