Government

Bill Northey says U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal is a 'clear win'

Former Iowa agriculture secretary hears farmers' concerns while touring state

Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey smiles as he talks with people in January 2017 at Wapsie Valley Creamery in Independence. Northey, now the undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, heard farmers’ trade concerns Wednesday while touring Iowa. (The Gazette)
Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey smiles as he talks with people in January 2017 at Wapsie Valley Creamery in Independence. Northey, now the undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, heard farmers’ trade concerns Wednesday while touring Iowa. (The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Stagnant trade agreements have created concerns all around the country.

Bill Northey, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary and former Iowa secretary of agriculture, was touring Iowa Wednesday and Thursday to listen to Iowans with concerns about U.S. trade negotiations.

A lot of Iowans are wondering whether the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA is close to being passed by Congress.

“There’s a lot of support of that in agriculture,” Northey said. “A desire to get that passed sooner rather than later.”

Northey called the USMCA deal a “clear win” and a modernized NAFTA.

During Northey’s visit, he had a chance to meet with U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, in La Porte City during a visit to County Line Feed Mill.

“She seemed very interested in it,” Northey said. “I think she’s actively engaged and looking at it and trying to understand it.”

Finkenauer sits on the U.S. House Agricultural Committee.

While the House has yet to vote on the USMCA agreement, “I think it will have support, but we need to get it done and buttoned up,” Northey said.

Residents also talked to Northey about signing up for market facilitation payments, he said.

The payments go to farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods are directly impacted by the tariffs resulting from ongoing trade conflicts, primarily with China.

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“For the most part, I hear that people are happy with the way signup is going,” Northey said.

The payments are offered through Farm Service Agency offices.

A little less than $1 billion in market facilitation payments were made last year, Northey said.

“Overall,” he said, “the program is about 50 percent bigger this year than what is was a year ago.”

About 250,000 farmers have signed up for payments in the last month, he said.

“We started sending checks last week,” Northey said. “About $1.5 billion worth of checks have gone across the country.”

Farmers are able to apply for the program through December.

“It’s designed to facilitate marketing for folks, not just replace prices,” Northey said.

Since becoming a U.S. ag undersecretary, Northey hasn’t had a lot of chances to come back to Iowa.

“I’m glad to be able to be back,” he said.

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