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Mike Pence with Sonny Perdue Ron Smith
Vice President Mike Pence (center) shakes hands with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a conference in this file photo. Pence spoke Wednesday in the San Joaquin Valley.

Pence touts USMCA at SJ Valley farm

Vice president says trade deal could increase annual U.S. food and agricultural exports by an estimated $2.2 billion.

The U.S.' proposed new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would be "a win for America's farmers," increasing annual food and agricultural exports by an estimated $2.2 billion "all by itself," Vice President Mike Pence told a farm gathering in California's San Joaquin Valley on Wednesday afternoon.

The new trade deal would benefit farmers by adding new rules addressing biotechnology, give poultry, beef and dairy producers greater access to Canadian markets and update the rules of origin for processed fruits to ensure preferences benefit U.S. producers, Pence told a cheering crowd at Doug and Julie Freitas and Sons Farms in Lemoore, Calif.

The benefits would further bolster agriculture in California, which already exports more than $48 billion in goods and services annually to Mexico and Canada alone, Pence said. "Under USMCA, we know that number is going to grow," he said.

"It's absolutely essential to get USMCA passed by Congress," Pence said. "It's going to give American farmers the level playing field they need to be able to compete and win."

The event, which was streamed online, was hosted by America First Policies, a private advocacy organization formed in 2017 to promote President Donald Trump's policy agenda. Pence began his campaign-style speech by recognizing first responders' work during last week's earthquakes in Southern California and promising that the administration is working with state officials to rush support to affected families.

He devoted much of his address to touting the importance of farmers throughout American history and credited Trump's economic policies for improving growers' profitability. Tax cuts enacted in 2017 enabled farmers to deduct the total cost of equipment purchases, he said. Further, the administration has cancelled or delayed over 1,500 planned regulations, including the Waters of the U.S. rule, he noted.

"It's made a difference for farmers right here in the San Joaquin Valley," Pence said.

Groups rally support

Over 950 groups and organizations representing U.S. food and agriculture industries have banded together in recent weeks to rally Congress to support ratification of the USMCA, which was negotiated by Trump and Canadian and Mexican leaders to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agreement has been ratified by Mexican lawmakers but still awaits approval from Congress and the Canadian Parliament.

“This trade accord would improve market access for several U.S. agricultural products with improvements to facilitate more seamless cross-border trade,” National Grain and Feed Association president Randy Gordon said in June.

Some issues must still be resolved.  In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the National Farmers Union is urging improvements the organization believes will help reduce health care costs and protect rural jobs.

NFU president Roger Johnson wants changes in a USMCA provision that would grant pharmaceutical companies marketing exclusivity for biologic drugs for a minimum of 10 years, which he says would prevent Congress from moving to bring lower-cost generic drugs to the market. He also complains that many rural manufacturing jobs are moving to foreign markets with cheaper labor and lower environmental standards.

For his part, Pence has been vocal about his desire for Congress to pass USMCA, urging Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., during a visit to his district in May to ask Pelosi to schedule a vote on the deal. Peterson responded that he'd "be happy to make that request," but cautioned that "some straightforward hurdles remain before we can get this done."

On Wednesday, the vice president spoke of his familiarity with agriculture, noting that he cleaned horse stalls as a boy on his family's ranch in Indiana. "It was good prepartion for service in Washington, D.C.," he quipped.

Pence urged growers to put pressure on Congress to ratify the trade deal in 2019.

"The president has done his job," he said. "Our neighbors have done their job. Now it's time for Congress to do their job and pass the USMCA this year. Make no mistake about it -- you all are going to be the difference. The voice of the American farmer needs to be heard."

TAGS: Legislative
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