Former USDA chiefs and current Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are uniting to put more pressure on Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“The secretaries of agriculture of both parties are standing shoulder to shoulder, saying to the Congress, ‘Go ahead and pass this legislation,” said John Block, who headed the USDA under President Ronald Reagan.
Perdue, together with Block, Dan Glickman (USDA chief for President Bill Clinton) and Tom Vilsack (President Barack Obama’s ag secretary) held a press conference at USDA headquarters Thursday to unveil a letter to leaders of Congress, press the case for USMCA ratification, and answer reporters’ questions.
“We need a strong and reliable trade deal with our top two customers for U.S. agriculture products,” former ag secretaries Block, Vilsack, Glickman, Mike Espy (Bill Clinton), Ann Veneman (George W. Bush), Mike Johanns (George W. Bush) and Ed Schafer (George W. Bush) wrote in the letter. “USMCA will provide certainty in the North American market for the U.S. farm sector and rural economy. We strongly support ratification of USMCA.”
The Trump administration still has not sent USMCA implementing legislation up to Capitol Hill in order to give U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer more time to work out concerns shared by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.
Lighthizer was expected to meet with some House Democrats Thursday, but those talks are now tentatively planned for Friday.
House Democrats are still concerned that USMCA does not go far enough to enforce Mexican pledges on labor and environmental reforms. Vilsack and Glickman told reporters they believe Mexico will enforce new labor standards to give workers access to unions and higher wages.
Glickman, who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement while representing Kansas in the House of Representatives, praised Mexico’s legislature for approving labor reforms and said: “You never can totally predict enforcement, but at the same time … the atmosphere is much better now for enforcement than it was after NAFTA was passed. So, I’m comfortable that we’re doing everything we can do.”
It’s not just the secretaries pushing for Congress to ratify USMCA. Major farm groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council have made the North American trade pact a priority.
Land O’Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford on Wednesday called for fast action on USMCA.
“One way for policymakers to bring stability back and help American workers is pass implementing legislation for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Ford said at a meeting of Business Roundtable in Washington. “This is significant at $1.4 trillion in trade and 12 million American jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico. For agriculture this is a $40 billion market. That has grown — this had quintupled since the advent of NAFTA.”
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