The House overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement on a 385-41 vote Thursday, sending the new North American trade pact to the Senate, where it should pass easily early next year. 

The vote was remarkably bipartisan: 193 Democrats and 192 Republicans voted for the implementing bill. Only 38 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent voted against it. 

Republicans complained repeatedly that Democrats held up the pact for months as they negotiated changes to USMCA, while Democrats took credit for strengthening USMCA labor, environment and enforcement provisions. In the end, both sides lauded the replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement as major accomplishment that benefits farmers and protects U.S. manufacturing jobs.

By comparison, the House approved the original NAFTA implementing bill, 234-200, in 1993. Democrats, who also controlled the House then, voted 156-102 against the agreement.

“This is a bipartisan victory for American farmers who have been craving a return to certainty and stability on trade,” Angela Hofmann, co-executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, said of the House action on USMCA. “USMCA continues duty-free access to Canada and Mexico, which has been a bedrock of U.S. ag export growth for over 25 years.”

That continuation of tariff-free trade for most ag commodities, together with relief after several threats by President Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, were the primary gains for the U.S. ag sector, but the pact would also bolster U.S. dairy, poultry, wheat and wine exports to Canada.

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Under USMCA, Canada agreed to increase U.S. access to its tightly controlled domestic market through new tariff rate quotas for milk, cheese, cream, skim milk powder, butter, ice cream, whey and other dairy products. Canada also pledged to eliminate its Class 7 dairy pricing system, which U.S. producers say flooded the international market with skim milk powder.

That will translate into an additional $227 million in dairy exports for U.S. producers, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Canada also agreed to set up new tariff rate quotas for U.S. poultry and eggs, allowing in an additional 10 million eggs annually, starting the first year, and 57,000 tons of poultry. The poultry TRQ goes into place six years after USMCA implementation.

And for U.S. vintners, they will be getting fairer treatment at Canadian retailers in British Columbia. As of now, U.S. wine can’t be sold on regular grocery store shelves along with Canadian wine. Instead, the province requires U.S. wine to be displayed in a separate “store within a store” that is physically separated from the main retail outlet and has separate cash registers.

All of that is scheduled to end with implementation of USMCA.

“I’ve long said that support for USMCA crosses political parties. The bipartisan passage of the agreement today is proof of that,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “I am pleased the House finally brought this agreement to a vote and encourage quick passage in the Senate."

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the committee's ranking member, both told Agri-Pulse they expect the Senate to make passage of the USMCA implementing bill a priority.

“They could take it up tomorrow if they wanted,” Neal said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate would vote on the USMCA bill after finishing the impeachment trial for Trump next month, although it's not clear if and when the trial will start. 

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