Passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as soon as possible was a unifying message representatives of different livestock industry segments delivered to the House Agriculture Committee’s livestock and foreign agriculture subcommittee during a hearing Tuesday morning. Members from both sides of the aisle expressed a willingness to try to get that accomplished.
Subcommittee chairman Jim Costa (D., Cal.) said passing USMCA before the end of the year would be significant not only for American agriculture but also for the partnerships with Mexico and Canada and continuing to build the economy and add certainty.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D., Cal.) noted that he’s another Democrat who wants to get to “yes on this side of the aisle on USMCA” and that negotiations to accomplish this are ongoing with U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
Despite hopes to get a vote ahead of the August recess, legislators have now resorted to pushing for a vote in the fall if speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) will bring implementing legislation to the floor. In a floor speech on Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said he hopes discussions between House Democrats and Lighthizer are “an exercise in getting to ‘yes’” on the trade deal.
Grassley was joined by several other senators -- including Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), John Hoeven (R., N.D), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), John Boozman (R., Ark.), Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), Mike Braun (R., Ind.), John Thune (R., S.D.) and Rob Portman (R., Ohio) -- in a colloquy to encourage the timely passage of USMCA in order to provide certainty and predictability to the nation’s agriculture industry as a whole.
Representatives from livestock commodity groups offered testimony and insight regarding the need for USMCA passage.
Holly Porter, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., said the U.S. exported about 17% of its overall production in 2018, or 7 billion lb. of chicken meat. This makes the U.S. second in broiler exports worldwide, behind Brazil.
“Mexico and Canada are our top two export markets, with a combined value of over $850 million in 2018,” Porter testified, adding that passing USMCA "is absolutely critical to the chicken industry not only in protecting the current marketplace but growing it. We call on Congress to vote on USMCA as soon as possible."
Kelley Sullivan Georgiades, owner and operator of Santa Rosa Ranch in Crockett, Texas, who testified on behalf of the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assn., said USMCA keeps the good aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — unrestricted, duty-free access for U.S. beef and cattle — and does not attempt to incorporate failed policies from the past, such as mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
“Failure to maintain free trade with Mexico and Canada would be devastating to cattle producers, and it has also left other trade breakthroughs pending,” she said, pointing out that export totals to Japan have already been moderating despite the increase in beef demand in Japan.
“The most important thing this Congress can do for American ranchers is to approve the U.S.- Mexico-Canada trade agreement,” Sullivan Georgiades testified. “Mexico and Canada, combined, buy $2 billion in U.S. beef products every single year. That’s nearly a quarter of all U.S. beef exports each year and accounts for $69 of those $300 realized by U.S. producers as a result of trade.”
“I wish we could get it done tomorrow,” National Pork Producers Council president David Herring said of the need to pass USMCA.
Herring said Canada and Mexico comprise 32% of total U.S. pork exports. “When looking at North America as a trading unit, it’s healthy for our partners to have good economies, as it makes all of us more competitive on a worldwide basis," he added.
Minnesota turkey grower John Zimmerman, testifying on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, said the turkey industry’s number-one priority is encouraging the passage of USMCA. “The turkey industry has a fantastic relationship with those we do business with in Mexico, and ratifying this agreement will only improve that bond,” he said in written testimony.
In his comments during the hearing, Zimmerman noted that access to Canada is a “tough nut to crack,” but the increased access proposed under USMCA offers modest improvements to previous NAFTA quotas.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said, “It’s impossible to talk about the state of the livestock or poultry economies without discussing the $2.2 billion elephant in the room for agriculture: USMCA. As we heard again today, producers are clamoring for the additional certainty, benefits of increased access and added protections that USMCA promises with two of our most important trading partners. I again urge my colleagues across the aisle to join me in committing to working together to approve USMCA.”