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Fresh strawberries and grapes Tim Hearden
Arizona importers of fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico, all members of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, are among the 950 groups urging Congress to quickly approve the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement [USMCA].

Over 950 food, ag groups push for USMCA

One in four domestic manufacturing jobs is related to agriculture, expert says.

“In union, there is strength,” noted Greek philosopher Aesop centuries ago, a concept that rings true today in the words of Helen Keller who wrote, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

With that concept in mind, over 950 groups and organizations representing U.S. food and agriculture industries have banded together to rally Congress to support ratification of United States Mexico Canada Agreement.

“This trade accord would improve market access for several U.S. Agricultural products with improvements to facilitate more seamless cross-border trade,” says Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association.

NGFA was joined by the North American Meat Institute where President/CEO Julie Anna Potts added that “Mexico and Canada represent two of our most critical markets and swift ratification would benefit both consumers and the meat and poultry industry.”

The dairy industry (National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Export Council, and the International Dairy Foods Association) petitioned as a group for passage.  Jim Mulhern, NMPF President, noted: “In the midst of uncertainty surrounding trade relationships, and another year where the U.S. lost an average of 7 dairy farms a day in 2018, USMCA would instill a renewed sense of optimism.”

Also weighing in was the American Bakers Association with a strong commitment to passage and enactment of USMCA because “bakers rely heavily on a cross-border supply chain to keep quality consistent and costs competitive.”

CREATING STABILITY

From an economic standpoint, the intended replacement for NAFTA “will create stability for American companies involved in trade,” according to Lance Jungmeyer, President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, another group pushing for the deal.

Supporting that contention is a recent report from the International Trade Commission confirming the proposed agreement would improve market access for U.S. farmers, ranchers, and food producers and would have a positive impact on both the American agriculture sector and the broader national economy.

Over the last 25 years, U.S. food and agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have more than quadrupled under NAFTA --- to nearly $40 billion in 2018.

“USMCA builds on the success of NAFTA, making further enhancement to our food and agricultural exports, and delivering an additional $2.2 billion to our economic activity bottom line,” reports the FPAA.

One in four domestic manufacturing jobs are related to agriculture, notes Jungmeyer, and once implemented, he says, “USMCA will strengthen our farm and agriculture economy and secure vital market access for U.S. farmers, ranchers, and the agribusiness industry.”

That show of unity acknowledged, the produce industry has resumed its focus on how trade affects our economy and how tariffs hurt those efforts.

“As American businessmen, it’s clear to us that USMCA is favorable to our industry and our consumers.  Tariffs, especially those intertwining trade issues with immigration issues, are a blow that’s hard to recover from,” says Roberto Crisantes, COO of Wholesum Farms Arizona.

THREAT AVERTED

President Trump’s recent saber-rattling about additional tariffs (up to a possible 25 percent on Mexican goods) ultimately got shelved, but just the thought sent a chill through the agricultural import sector.  “As growers, we were planning our winter planting and that high uncertainty about potential new tariffs made us really nervous about being bullish on a lot of crops,”Crisantes admitted.

“The additional tariff talk came during our planning for crop harvest three to four months from now and it’s difficult to plan when you don’t know what to expect tomorrow, say nothing of next week,” added Jaime Chamberlain of Chamberlain Distributing, an executive board member of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.

Another grower/importer, Chris Ciruli of Ciruli Brothers --- U.S. farmers as well as importers of Mexican, Central, and South American fruits and vegetables --- added: “We believe the benefits of NAFTA over the last quarter century have been far greater for all three countries involved than any kind of tariff war would be.  Taxing small family business owners through tariffs is not the way to solve immigration issues.”

Importer Chamberlain is sitting on the sidelines during the current trade tariff threats, not moving forward with $10 million in development projects in Southern Arizona and another $3 million in Mexico.  He says simply: “USMCA needs to be ratified as soon as possible.  Its trade agreements like this, not tariffs, that make America the world’s lowest food cost provider with just about everything available 365 days a year.”

With federal lawmakers scheduled to take a break in August, timing of future action on the measure is unknown as the Trump Administration has not yet submitted text of the agreement to Congress for approval, something that must be done 30 days before a bill is formally introduced.  After submittal, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have up to 45 days to bring the bill to the floor.

To those 950 organizations urging swift passage, a reminder that patience is a virtue.

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