By anyone’s measure, the impeachment process now unfolding in the U.S. Congress is making it more difficult to achieve legislative victories, even on issues that have support from both political parties. Big items at the top of the agenda in January 2019 — lowering prescription drug prices, passing a major infrastructure bill, stabilizing our health-care system and reforming the immigration system — have hardly made it out of the starting gate. Instead, Congress will once again end the year struggling to fund the government.
An exception to the rule
The one issue that might be the exception to this rule is the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USCMA). Trade, in other words, has implausibly done what no other issue has been able to do in 2019 — bring both parties together around a common goal.
In this case, that goal is to preserve a fragile U.S. economy by protecting our relationship with our two largest trading partners.
In June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated emphatically about USMCA: “We want to pass this bill.”
This fall, when the impeachment inquiry began in earnest in the House, the speaker stated that Democrats in the House want to demonstrate they can make headway on legislation that matters to voters, even while investigating the president. At her press conferences, she often cited ratification of USMCA as a prime example of what Congress should be able to do, even in the middle of an impeachment process.
USMCA, Pelosi has said, is a better deal than the current North American Free Trade Agreement — but the new deal requires stronger, enforceable standards around labor, the environment and medication. She set up four working groups made up of House members to negotiate changes in USMCA with the Trump administration.
Impressively, much progress has been made in these negotiations, thanks to a positive working relationship between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the speaker, and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
A political must
For the speaker and many other members of Congress, passage of USMCA is a political must. For the past two years, members of Congress have gone home to their districts during breaks and recesses with little to show for their efforts. Ratifying USMCA would demonstrate to voters that House Democrats are not singularly focused on impeaching the president and, in fact, can still work with the administration to achieve a common goal.
It also bears repeating that the speaker’s home state of California is the nation’s largest producer and exporter of food and agricultural products. In 2018, California agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico totaled $6.4 billion.
On the flip side, Mexico is the No. 1 market for many American-made and -grown products. Last year, we shipped $1.4 billion of milk, cheese, whey, ice cream and other dairy products to Mexico.
By all accounts, USMCA is a good deal for food and agriculture. More than 1,000 groups representing the U.S. food and agriculture value chain at the national, state and local levels have called on Congress to ratify USMCA.
For dairy, USMCA will expand market access to Canada and preserve our market with Mexico, increasing exports by $277 million to our North American partners. Overall, the new trade deal would raise U.S. gross domestic product by $68.2 billion and create about 176,000 new American jobs.
It is difficult to find a silver lining in the current atmosphere in Washington, but if there is one to be found, it is the progress on USMCA. Now Congress must look past politics and focus on getting this deal done.