Vela: No vote on USMCA until November or December
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The House is unlikely to vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade until November or December, Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, said Monday at the American Sugar Alliance’s International Sweetener Symposium.
Vela is chairman of the House Agriculture General Farm Commodities and Risk Management SubcommitteeRepublicans have called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring up the USMCA for a vote in September or October, but Vela said, “I feel confident that won’t happen.”
The concerns of Democratic progressives, members from the Southeast concerned about seasonal surges of Mexican exports of fruit and vegetables to the United States, and border members concerned with infrastructure have to be addressed before the trade pact can pass the House, Vela said.
Republicans say there are enough votes for the pact to pass now, although it might not get a majority of Democratic votes, but Vela said he does not believe there are at the present time.
Vela noted he had gone on the recent trip organized by the House Ways and Means Committee to Mexico where the delegation looked into issues related to labor, the environment and pharmaceuticals.
During that trip, Vela said, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., told Mexican officials her concern is that the agreement does not cover the issue of seasonal surges in Mexican exports of tomatoes that upset Florida and Georgia producers. Murphy noted that the entire Florida delegation is concerned with the issue, Vela said.
Mexican officials “took a hard line,” he said, saying Mexico would not make any concessions on that point.
But Vela said that if Mexico does make concessions on seasonality he and other representatives from Texas and California will have problems supporting the agreement because the Texas and California Farm Bureaus are opposed to seasonal provisions.
(Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has acknowledged that members of Congress from Florida and his home state of Georgia keep raising the seasonality issue. Perdue told them that the agreement does not address their concerns, but urged members to vote for the pact because it does not go backwards and will help other agricultural sectors.)
Vela said “progressives,” including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who also made the trip, are not close to being satisfied with the USMCA.
Vela said his own demand is for improvements to bridges and the ports of entry along the border. Trucks are sometimes lined up for six hours before they can get through on the American side headed south, he said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer initially said that the issue of border infrastructure was “not in my lane,” but he has “come around” to recognize its importance, Vela said, noting he and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., recently had lunch with Lighthizer and that he finds Lighthizer easy to work with.
Peterson has been encouraging farm groups to invite his subcommittee chairs to meetings instead of him, and Vela spent a considerable amount of time explaining the Democratic membership of the committee to the beet and cane growers.
The Democrats won control of the House in the election, but only five Democrats who served in the last Congress besides Peterson stayed on the committee, which has meant an extensive learning experience for the 20 new members, he said.
“It’s important to have Peterson there,” Vela said.
Rural representatives in the Democratic caucus are “few and far between,” which means that the re-election of members such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., whom Peterson named chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, is important in order “to protect rural interests in the Democratic caucus,” Vela said.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee had a “pretty big disagreement on nutrition” in the 2018 farm bill debate, but if “we don’t have to deal with those kinds of policies in the future farm policy will be stable,” he said.
(In 2018, the nutrition issue was resolved by the conference committee adopting the Senate nutrition title.)
Vela noted that he is one of only two Texans serving on House Agriculture, and that when Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, the ranking member and former chairman retires, he will be the only one. Conaway’s retirement will have “a profound effect” on Texas agriculture, Vela said.