Today may mark the beginning of World Trade Month, but at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, trade is always on our mind. The issue once again represents one of our top policy priorities — and for good reason.

We have seen the positive impacts of good trade policy. In recent years, a combination of lower tariffs and science-based trade standards have made the U.S. beef and cattle sectors the pinnacle of global protein production. At the same time, painful memories of bad trade policy remain. Misguided initiatives, like Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling, have the potential to upend our markets and spread economic misery throughout the beef supply chain.

Experience has turned NCBA into an ardent promoter of the free market and science-based trade principles around the world. Most sales of high-quality, American beef take place here at home, but we also see lucrative opportunities overseas. A growing consumer base outside of our borders is eager to make American beef a dietary staple. If we can secure free and open access to these consumers, the results will be stronger growth and a brighter future for U.S. producers. We know this because we have witnessed it with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

For over twenty-five years the U.S. beef industry has benefited from unrestricted, duty-free access to Canada and Mexico under NAFTA. In 2018, U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico totaled $1.8 billion, adding $70 per head and delivering value to every segment of the industry. We recognize there are areas of NAFTA that should be updated to reflect the needs of our twenty-first century economy. We believe the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) accomplishes these goals. But for the U.S. beef industry, it was always going to be difficult to improve on zero tariffs, zero quotas, and science-based standards.

NCBA is pleased that USMCA makes no major changes to the market access provisions that have made the U.S. beef and cattle industry a powerhouse in North America. Let’s keep a great thing going.

For several months, NCBA has focused on educating lawmakers on the importance of North American trade and the significance of the USMCA. NCBA’s Legislative Conference, held last month in Washington, D.C., highlighted the benefits of USMCA for Congress and government agencies. Now, we are taking our advocacy public.

The clock is ticking. Political calendars in Canada and the United States mean that swift action is the surest way to deliver USMCA’s substantial benefits to cattle producers. Any delays will bring nothing but uncertainty to the hardworking men and women who are focused on running their operations and feeding the world.

The U.S. beef industry has invested heavily in developing a strong consumer base in Canada and Mexico. We cannot afford to jeopardize our competitive advantage with unnecessary trade barriers. That is why NCBA is strongly supporting USCMA — and urging Members of Congress to pass it now.

Jennifer Houston is the 2019 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President. Jennifer and her husband, Mark, own and operate East Tennessee Livestock Center in Sweetwater, Tennessee.