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Karen Ross and Brian Kuehl Tim Hearden
California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross (left) receives a button from Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, during a media gathering to promote proposed trade deals at a winery near Lodi, Calif., in 2018.

California senators split over USMCA

Feinstein supports the deal, noting its benefits for California agriculture, but Harris votes no

California's Democratic U.S. senators split over whether to support the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Thursday and was sent to President Donald Trump.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein supported the measure, arguing that its agricultural, environmental and labor provisions are "greatly improved" over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which she voted against in 1993.

 “I voted yes on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement because I believe it will benefit California and the United States," Feinstein said after voting for the deal in the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

But freshman Sen. Kamala Harris opposed the agreement, asserting its environmental provisions are insufficient to curb climate change.

"Californians know that the climate crisis is already here," said Harris, who also voted against the USMCA in the Budget Committee. "Communities across our state have experienced exacerbated fires, storms, floods, and drought, and the devastation will only get worse if we fail to take bold and immediate action to address it."

Landslide vote

The Senate voted 89-10 to ratify the deal. Under its provisions:

  • America’s dairy farmers will have expanded market opportunities in Canada for a wide variety of dairy products. Canada agreed to eliminate the unfair Class 6 and 7 milk pricing programs that allowed their farmers to undersell U.S. producers.
  • The agreement specifically addresses agricultural biotechnology – including new technologies such as gene editing – to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies.
  • The agreement institutes a more rigorous process for establishing geographical indicators and lays out additional factors to be considered in determining whether a term is a common name.
  • The three countries agree to strengthen disciplines for science-based measures that protect human, animal, and plant health while improving the flow of trade.
  • U.S. poultry producers will have expanded access to Canada for chicken, turkey, and eggs.
  • Canada agrees to terminate its discriminatory wheat grading system, enabling U.S. growers to be more competitive.
  • The three countries agree to avoid technical barriers to trade through non-discrimination and transparency regarding sale, distribution

Trump’s signature on the USMCA will finalize its ratification by the United States. Mexico has already ratified the agreement, while the Canadian House of Commons is expected to vote on the pact in coming weeks.

Farm groups praise

The Senate's approval was met with immediate praise from farm groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation, which has argued vociferously in favor of the deal for months.

“We’re grateful to the many California farmers and ranchers who contacted their elected representatives on behalf of USMCA, and we thank Senator Feinstein for her vote to approve the agreement,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said after Thursday's vote. “The USMCA will further open markets for California-grown food and agricultural products, and will benefit the tens of thousands of Californians whose jobs rely on farm exports to Canada and Mexico.

“This has been a big week for trade developments, considering the signing of a Phase 1 agreement between the U.S. and China,” Johansson said. “We’re hopeful the Phase 1 agreement will ultimately lead to further easing of trade between the two nations, and that the United States will continue to pursue trade policies that open markets for high-quality California farm products.”

In supporting the deal, Feinstein noted there are several provisions that will help California, including $300 million to address pollution from the Tijuana River; greater access to Canadian agricultural markets, including dairy; and labor provisions that go far beyond past trade agreements.

“I recognize that some critics think we can do more to protect the environment and fight climate change, and I agree," Feinstein said. "But this agreement takes important steps in that area. In addition to fighting pollution along the southern border, the agreement prevents illegal and unregulated fishing and makes it easier for countries to issue regulations in the public interest.

“This agreement is a step in the right direction, in large part due to important improvements made by House Democrats," she said. "Those improvements helped secure strong labor and environmental provisions and will go a long way toward stabilizing our trade relationships with Mexico and Canada, two of the most important trading partners for California and the nation."

Pelosi, labor credited

Harris also credited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) for efforts on labor and other issues she says "dramatically" improved the USMCA over the pact originally negotiated by Trump.

"Trade agreements can open up new markets to American products and forge new alliances with foreign countries," she said. "They can also lead to job losses, depressed wages, and environmental degradation. Living in a state with the largest and most diverse economy in the nation, Californians have seen both the good and the bad up close. My responsibility as their senator is to listen to their concerns and learn from the mistakes of past trade deals."

Harris was joined by eight other Democrats, one Republican (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania) and one independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) in opposing the measure. The other Democrats were Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

Arizona's Sens. Martha McSally, a Republican, and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, both voted in favor. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma did not vote.

TAGS: Trade
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