A heat wave swept through our nation’s capital last week, and I’m not just talking about the weather! Politics are as heated as ever these days. In this atmosphere, it can be hard to imagine members of Congress coming together in spite of their differences to get anything done. On the issue of trade, at least, I believe consensus is not only possible; it is happening.
Representatives from the Trump Administration, led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and congressional leaders are getting down to brass tacks on tweaks to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to win support from members of Congress. Meanwhile, White House and congressional staff are working behind the scenes to lay the groundwork needed for a smooth process once the Administration submits the USMCA implementing language for a vote.
Support for trade often has bridged political divides. The original North American Free Trade Agreement, which USMCA would modernize and replace, was passed by a vote of 132 Republican and 102 Democratic “yeas” in the House of Representatives. That bipartisan action has yielded a quadrupling of U.S. agricultural exports since 1993. Our elected leaders recognize that ensuring our economy remains strong, with access to foreign customers, is a goal that’s too big to fail. Members of Congress may have different ideas about the best route to achieve that goal, but ultimately most agree we must get there.
Ratifying USMCA is critical not just because of what’s in the agreement, but because of its symbolism. Approval would set off a positive domino effect of successful trade negotiations and agreements around the world. That matters not just here in North America but across the Atlantic and Pacific: in China, Japan, the European Union, Great Britain and potentially other nations and regions.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to bolster our negotiations with China in particular, as we struggle with tariffs that have slashed U.S. agricultural exports to that country.
Showing all our trade partners that we can get deals done would encourage them to belly up to the negotiating table, and go back to their farmers, industries and legislative bodies with a message of determination to make the compromises necessary to secure a deal with the world’s largest economy, the USA.
Of course, what’s in the agreement is a worthy goal in itself: updated, fairer rules and improved access for biotech products, dairy, wheat, poultry and other U.S. ag exports. The International Trade Commission has said the USMCA would improve market access for U.S. farmers, ranchers and food producers and have “a positive impact on the U.S. agriculture sector.” That would be like water on a wilting plant! Agriculture surely and sorely needs “a positive impact” right now, with farm income far below what it was five years ago.
Our congressional leaders in both parties know we have to get this deal done. They know how important it is to agriculture and to our nation. What they may not know is whether their constituents in their states and districts will have their backs when they vote for the agreement. That’s where you come in.
Over the August congressional recess, we have an opportunity to repeat and reiterate the importance of USMCA to America’s farmers and ranchers. We have the opportunity―the imperative―to send those members of Congress back to Washington in early September with the backbone to do the right thing for agriculture and the economy. I don’t intend to let that opportunity pass, and I hope you won’t either.
We can, and must, plow forward and unleash our nation’s economic and productive power around the world. It’s important for trade, and it’s important for our can-do national identity. We must show the world that, yes, our politics are loud and messy, but we get things done.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.