Agriculture Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney and Gregg Doud, the chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, told a House agriculture committee subcommittee today it is vital for Congress to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, while a group of more than 950 farm groups urged Congress to support it.
McKinney and Doud testified before the House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee on the state of U.S. farm products in foreign markets, while the huge coalition of farm groups sent their letter to congressional leaders.
In their opening statements, McKinney and Doud both stressed the importance of congressional approval of USMCA.
“The USMCA is a top legislative priority of the administration just as it is a top priority of much of U.S. agriculture,” McKinney said.
Both said the agreement would be better for agriculture than the North American Free Trade Agreement that it would replace, particularly for the U.S. dairy, poultry, egg and wheat industries.
But each stressed that not approving it would send a terrible message to other countries with which the United States wishes to negotiate free-trade agreements or improvements to existing agreements.
Asked what would happen if Congress does not approve the agreement, McKinney said, “I don’t even want to think about it.” The message to other countries “would be disastrous,” he added.
Doud said the Trump administration has “plans to move forward in a lot of different places in the world,” but that failure to approve NAFTA would put a stop to those efforts.
Asked about Trump’s threat to withdraw from NAFTA, Doud said his focus is on passing USMCA.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., the subcommittee chairman, noted during the hearing that he favors approving USMCA. But he also said in his opening statement and to reporters afterward that Trump’s recent announcement he would put a 5% tariff on Mexican goods and then pulling back from it had made the atmosphere more difficult.
“In my opinion, USMCA, under the current environment, that the president is largely responsible for, will be difficult to pass this year at best,” Costa said.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., was more positive toward the administration, saying that Lighthizer “has been a pleasant presence” on Capitol Hill.
“I think he has worked his tail off,” Panetta said.
In other developments at the hearing, Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., asked McKinney and Doud to elaborate on Trump’s tweet that Mexican officials have promised to increase purchases of U.S. agricultural products, but both said they had no further information, a situation that Craig said she considered odd.
McKinney also said that the administration has developed the trade mitigation package because officials have realized that the conflict with China has caused trouble for farmers, and that the package is now at the White House Office of Management and Budget for consideration.
In a closing comment, Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., the ranking member, told Doud and McKinney, “We have to get something one for our farmers so that they can get workers.”
In a statement after the hearing, Rouzer and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring USMCA up for a vote.
“USMCA is a no-brainer for American agriculture,” Rouzer said.
“If the International Trade Commission’s estimated $2.2 billion increase in ag exports doesn’t convince my colleagues, then all they need to do is talk to a local farmer or rancher. American producers have made it clear: the best thing we can do for our lagging agriculture economy is get this deal done.”