House members, dairy, Southeast growers testify on USMCA |

House members, dairy, Southeast growers testify on USMCA

At an International Trade Commission hearing Nov. 14 on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that is supposed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, two House Democrats said they are uncertain Democrats will vote to approve it.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who is expected to chair the House Ways Trade Subcommittee, said the USMCA is an improvement over NAFTA, but that he is still not certain it will meet his “standard for a better deal for American workers.”

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said that to receive Democratic support it must raise wages in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“Both lawmakers urged the ITC to focus on the USMCA’s impact on workers and jobs in the report it must prepare before Congress can vote on the agreement,” Washington Trade Daily said in an analysis.

International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes said the dairy industry wished the agreement had gone farther in provisions related to both Mexico and Canada, and that U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico are having a negative impact on dairy exports because Mexico has imposed retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent on American cheeses.

“We’ve seen sales decline 10 percent for cheese in July, August and September due to the tariffs,” Dykes said. Until the U.S. tariffs are lifted, “U.S. dairy’s access to the Mexican market is at risk,” he added.

While he noted that the agreement appears to have addressed Canadian dairy policy measures that restrict market access, he cautioned that the corrections need to be monitored and enforced.

Representatives of the fruit and vegetable industry in Florida and Georgia criticized the agreement for not combating “cheap Mexican produce imports flooding the market,” as Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association CEO Mike Stuart stated in his testimony.

U.S. imports of Mexican tomatoes have tripled since 2000, Stuart said. During that time Florida tomato production has dropped by almost 50 percent. Mexican bell pepper shipments to the United States also have tripled since 2000, while U.S. production has declined by 35 percent.

In less than two decades, unfair subsidies by the Mexican government for its fruit and vegetable producers have empowered that industry to overtake the U.S. market, he maintained.

The bill does not contain any of the trade remedies that the southeastern growers had demanded.

“No U.S. interest is served if the Southeast produce industry suffers further irrevocable decline under the USMCA’s watch,” Stuart said.

“My colleagues and I therefore respectfully urge that the commission highlight in its forthcoming report, with as much priority as possible, that effective near-term relief has become a survival imperative for the Southeast industry.”

Also testifying on Thursday on the southeast produce industry were Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Kenneth Parker, president of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

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