This week marks one year since the United States, Canada and Mexico informally agreed to terms of a new free-trade agreement that is widely seen as a win for Iowa farmers and manufacturers.
Supporters of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, worry the deal could be doomed if Congress does not ratify it before entering a contentious election year.
The agreement needs initial approval from the Democrat-controlled U.S. House before it can move to the Senate. However, some Democrats have lingering concerns about labor rights, environmental protection and enforcement provisions.
Members have met with Trump aides to discuss possible changes, but that could require reopening negotiations with foreign leaders and there is no clear consensus on what compromises might be made.
Both sides in the negotiation ought to recognize that a deal they perceive as imperfect is better than no deal at all. It is imperative for Congress and the Trump administration to work together and establish a workable agreement before the end of the year.
Canada and Mexico are the biggest recipients of U.S. food and farm exports, buying some $40 billion of our agriculture products last year, according to federal figures. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest producer of farm exports.
Iowa’s industry and political leaders overwhelmingly support the USMCA in principle. The updated version of the existing North American Free Trade Agreement would provide tariff-free exports of Iowa beef to Canada and Mexico, expanding the international market for eggs and eliminate Canada’s restrictions against U.S. milk. All of those would provide significant benefits to Iowa’s farm economy.
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While we remain optimistic about the USMCA, we also recognize it is not a holistic response to the nation’s trade concerns. Even if the deal is ratified, President Donald Trump’s other trade restrictions would continue to weigh heavily on the U.S. economy.
Even where Trump has legitimate underlying concerns about trade partners’ bad behavior, he has opted for a go-it-alone approach, abandoning the proven-successful strategy of joining allies to exert multilateral economic pressure.
The president repeatedly has said he is the best thing to happen to farmers. He insists farmers are willing to endure a little economic hardship in favor of long-term success.
To the contrary, farmers are collateral damage in Trump’s failing trade war. Iowa needs the USMCA, but the administration also must restore a sensible global trade agenda.
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