CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was the focus of a roundtable in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, June 17, with former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on hand to give his thoughts on the proposed trade deal.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and current president and CEO for the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said he wants to make sure the possible replacement for NAFTA is approved before President Donald Trump changes his mind.
“The concern I have is if it doesn’t get ratified, the president, at one point in time, has threatened to pull out of NAFTA,” Vilsack said. “I think that would be a bad thing for American agriculture. I hope that never happens.”
He also said if the agreement isn’t passed before the end of the year, the USMCA may become a political talking point for the presidential candidates ramping up their campaigns, which would cause additional delays.
“I hope it doesn’t get into presidential politics. When it does, then the issues get decided on a variety of things that aren’t really related to the agreement,” he said. “There’s a lot of hyperbole and a lot of exaggeration that takes place.”
The impact of pulling out of NAFTA would be felt in almost every aspect of agriculture, Vilsack said. More than 43 million food- and agriculture-related jobs could be impacted.
“For many commodities, (Mexico) is our No. 1 or top 3 market,” he said. “We would give up that financial advantage we have, tariffs would be assessed on our products, and we would not be as competitive. Mexico would be encouraged to look elsewhere, and when you lose the market, it’s very hard to get it back.”
Vilsack focused on the dairy market during much of his time at the event, noting how one of the top exporting markets for dairy is through Mexico. Points in the USMCA would help open up the U.S. dairy market into Canada.
He estimated that the impact of the USMCA will mean an additional $220 million in sales every year for dairy.
During the roundtable, representatives for the Iowa Turkey Federation, Iowa Biotechnology Association and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association also voiced their support for the deal.
Some producers asked Vilsack about areas that might not be gaining as much in the trade agreement. Vilsack said that for the most part, every aspect of agriculture is seeing some sort of improvement through the deal.
On June 19, Mexico became the first country to ratify the USMCA, stating confidence the United States and Canada would follow suit.
Vilsack said he sees movement happening in the U.S. toward agreement. He noted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has sent a delegation and assembled a task force to make sure some of the labor and environmental issues are resolved and to be assured enforcement in other countries won’t be an issue.
“I am (optimistic),” he said. “I think people are asking the right questions and I believe Pelosi when she said she wants to get to vote yes.”