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Journal photo by Kylene Scott.

Three former secretaries of agriculture and the current secretary met Sept. 19 to stress the importance of getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed.

All the former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture since the Reagan administration announced their support of USMCA in a letter. Those included were former secretaries John Block (Reagan), Mike Espy (Clinton), Dan Glickman (Clinton), Ann Veneman (W. Bush), Mike Johanns (W. Bush), Ed Shafer (W. Bush), and Tom Vilsack (Obama).

Part of the letter said, “We need a strong and reliable trade deal with our top two customers for U.S. agriculture products. USMCA will provide certainty in the North American market for the U.S. farm sector and rural economy. We strongly support ratification of USMCA.”

Current secretary, Sonny Perdue stressed important parts of USMCA, one being consequences built into it.

“The enforceability consequences are fairly seamless and we think it will motivate Mexico to comply,” Perdue said.

They faced the same apprehension when they were trying to negotiate in 2017.

“To their credit Mexico had lived up to that,” Perdue said. “Our producers are happy. We think the same thing will happen here. This is a very detailed type of agreement on which consequences of enforceability are present.”

Former secretary John Block said he was old enough that he actually voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

“At that time, I think there were serious concerns about the enforceability of the provisions,” Block said. “Mexico did not have the statutes in place that they currently have, and there’s been a lot more focus on the operation of NAFTA and how it needs to be enhanced and improved in terms of enforceability of labor and other provisions.”

Enforcement can really never totally be predicted, Block said.

“But at the same time, in my gut, the atmosphere is much better now for enforcement than it was after NAFTA was passed,” he said. “So I’m comfortable that we’re doing everything that we can do and USTR is going to push this thing and along with Sonny’s help even more aggressively than we pushed after NAFTA was adopted.”

Secretary Vilsack said trading to Mexico has been maintained even with the hiccups in regard to trade agreements. The Mexican market is still in good shape.

“The challenge though, is that if we don’t get this agreement, through, we will still face a very closed market in Canada,” Vilsack said. “This agreement opens it up a bit.”

The secretaries were questioned by media as to whether the timing of the letter was intentional or if they were worried about the status of USMCA. Perdue said he’s not worried.

“We’re encouraging Congress to understand the cross party, cross generational (lines) there that people who have been in this position, feel that this is a good deal,” Perdue said.

There’s been a lot of progress since the original agreement was penned, Perdue said.

“It’s a matter of just encouraging,” Perdue said. “Certainly we depend on Congress to ratify this. This is just another message, reassuring message from the group of eight secretaries of agriculture that say, we think this is a good deal too. We think it ought to be ratified sooner rather than later.”

According to the USDA, USMCA will advance United States agricultural interests in two of the most important markets for American farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. This high-standard agreement builds upon our existing markets to expand United States food and agricultural exports and support food processing and rural jobs. Canada and Mexico are the United States’ first and second largest export markets for United States food and agricultural products, totaling more than $39.7 billion food and agricultural exports in 2018. These exports support more than 325,000 American jobs. All food and agricultural products that have zero tariffs under NAFTA will remain at zero tariffs. Since the original NAFTA did not eliminate all tariffs on agricultural trade between the United States and Canada, the USMCA will create new market access opportunities for United States exports to Canada of dairy, poultry, and eggs, and in exchange the United States will provide new access to Canada for some dairy, peanut, and a limited amount of sugar and sugar-containing products.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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