House passes trade deal; Senate vote may wait until after impeachment trial
WASHINGTON — As expected, Minnesota and Dakota members of the U.S. House of Representatives all voted in favor of the historic U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade that passed 385-41 on Dec. 19, the House Committee on Agriculture confirmed.
Among House members in the Dakotas and Minnesota, only Rep Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minneapolis who represents Minnesota’s Fifth District, voted against it. Democrats voted for it 193-38; Republicans were for it 192-2; and one independent voted in favor.
The vote Thursday, Dec. 19, to pass sets the stage for a subsequent vote in the U.S. Senate, possibly in the next few weeks. President Donald Trump proposed the agreement in September 2018. Agriculture revisions in the agreement are important in this region, but much of the contentious parts involve other trade aspects, including labor policy in manufacturing.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, which initially was passed in 1994. Much of the existing NAFTA provisions would remain in USMCA, but passage of the agreement will give long-term certainty for trade partners on both sides of the borders.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his chamber will not consider the bill until after an impeachment trial in January, according to Politico. Trump pushed for the NAFTA revisions and has said he would sign the agreement when passed by the Senate. When the U.S. completes the deal, all changes will need to be ratified in Canadian Parliament.
Mixed ag report
House Democrats — some of whom have been criticized by the administration for the pace of getting the agreement through their chamber while they’re a majority — held out for changes involving enforcement, environmental standards, labor and drug pricing among the three countries.
The deal has been urgently sought by an entire range of agricultural entities.
Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish touted the elimination of a 10-year protection period for biologic drugs, affecting prescription drug pricing, and said the delay in passage was worth the time.
Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, urged quick passage, saying it is a positive “signal to our trading partners” and will help “protect and expand market opportunities.”
Minnesota corn, soybean and farm credit leaders have said ag exports to Canada and Mexico from that state generate over $1 billion a year and support 57,000 jobs in the state.
The National Farmers Union backs the amended USMCA, but South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke has decried the agreement for being “no different than NAFTA.” Sombke said it failed to protect cattle producers. He said it failed to control health care costs for family farmers in rural communities and wants to see country of origin labeling “fixed.”
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., from Mitchell, has said “no deal is perfect” but that “third party analysts” say it will increase American agricultural exports by $2 billion a year in areas like wheat, dairy and poultry, as part of a $68 billion overall gain for the country, and would add 176,000 U.S. jobs.
Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat from Eagan, Minn., who has had a career in journalism and human resources and is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said she is proud of the agreement and that it is “good for family farmers, protects American workers, and improves access to affordable prescription drugs.”
Craig signed a letter to the administration, with Democrats including Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and wants McConnell to call a vote prior to the Christmas break. McConnell spokesman told Politico that is not possible.
Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Detroit Lakes, Minn., and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, earlier called the compromise “great news for farmers, businesses and workers in western Minnesota and nationwide.” He touted its updates on biotechnology and sanitary and phytosanitary issues. It makes modest gains for U.S. farmers in Canadian dairy, poultry and wheat markets
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., has called the deal a “huge win for North Dakota, a huge win for America and a huge win for President Trump.” The North Dakota Farm Bureau says the deal “isn’t perfect, but it’s better than we had.” The North Dakota Farmers Union says the deal should have included country of origin labeling.