Pence steps up pressure for trade deal with Mexico, Canada

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
Vice President Mike Pence stepped up pressure on Congress to support the Trump administration's new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, taking his pitch to a congressional swing district in New Mexico.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Vice President Mike Pence stepped up pressure on Congress to support the Trump administration's new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Speaking to a crowd at an oilfield services company in the Permian basin that straddles New Mexico and Texas, Pence linked the future prosperity of the U.S. energy sector to approval this year of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

He suggested the trade deal would result in more infrastructure to move energy from the U.S. to Mexico, without specifying whether that might mean pipelines or transmission wires.

"We need to pass the USMCA and that's going to open the door to a boundless future of American energy," Pence said, urging the audience to contact the state's all-Democratic House and Senate delegation.

Trump also hails the trilateral agreement — also signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in November after tough negotiations — as a victory for U.S. manufacturing, with duty-free rewards for cars that include more North American components and higher wage requirements in Mexico.

However, crucial enabling legislation requires approval from the U.S. House and Senate, including House-majority Democrats who want greater concessions on labor and environmental provisions as the window for compromise narrows. Democrats are reluctant to hand Trump a major trade victory in the run-up to 2020 election.

Pence's trip to the West includes events to promote the trade pact in two congressional districts that Democrats took from the GOP last year. One is the sprawling southern New Mexico congressional district that borders Mexico and covers thriving oil fields and military bases.

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Pence's intermittent campaign for the trade pact also has taken him to York, Pennsylvania, where in June he implored an audience of engineers, tradespeople and salespeople to push Congress to approve the pact.

William Reinsch, a senior adviser on international business with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Pence appears to be on a pragmatic path in rallying local business and community leaders to the trade-pact cause — while members of Congress are at home on recess.

"The issue is the House and the issue is the Democrats," Reinsch said. "If Pence is smart he is going to areas where the Democratic congressmen are undecided."

While Pence is seeking support for the trade deal, leaders of ag groups are urging legislators to ratify the USMCA.

Zippy Duvall

Speaking at a Sept. 12 Rally for Passage of USMCA, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said his membership traveled to the nation's capitol to remind their elected representatives that trade is a lifeline for tens of thousands of family farms.

Duvall said farmers need Congress to pass the USMCA trade agreement to bring certainty to the already-positive trade relationship with the nation's closest neighbors and build on that relationship with new opportunities and commitments.

"The benefits of the USMCA are clear," Duvall said. "Estimates indicate we will gain more than $2 billion in additional farm exports and $65 billion in gross domestic product once the agreement is in place."

“The farm economy is reeling from the trade war combined with weather challenges and six years of lower farm income. Farmers want and need a better trade outlook and passing USMCA is a great step forward," he added.

More than 120 pork producers from across the country converged on the capitol during the National Pork Producer Council's Fall Legislation Action Conference, asking elected officials to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, allowing the U.S. pork industry to maintain zero-duty market access to two of its largest export markets.

"Last year, Canada and Mexico took over 40 percent of the pork that was exported from the U.S. and they are expected to be a large percentage this year as well," said NPPC President David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C. "Preserving zero-tariff pork trade in North American market is especially important as U.S. pork producers are struggling as a result of retaliatory tariffs in China."

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, U.S. pork exports were up 32% this summer over a year ago, peaking at 233,242 metric tons. In addition, export values increased 34% to $623.3 million.

The agency says the removal of the 20% retaliatory duty back in May was a key factor in the rebound in exports over the southern border.

Criss-crossing the nation in support of the USMCA, the Farmers for Free Trade Motorcade for Trade ended their journey in front of the U.S. Capitol where ag groups, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) joined other ag groups and politicians—from both parties—to bring awareness of the benefits of the trade agreement.

Tom Vilsack

"USMCA provides a much-needed upgrade to the trade rules, securing a brighter future for the export of American-made food and agricultural products to our North American neighbors," Vilsack said in a USDEC news release. "The positive impacts of this trade deal will be felt throughout the economy, as increased exports help drive jobs tied to food and agriculture production across the heartland."

Trump has tried to sell the trade deal as a replacement for the 25-year-old North America Free Trade Agreement that he criticized as a presidential candidate. The new trade deal has long-sought updates for the new digital economy and some labor protections.

Colleen Kottke of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed to this report.