A much-anticipated update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is one step closer to implementation.
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted 25-3 to approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Two Republicans and one Democrat cast the “no” votes.
Grassley’s been eager to put the deal to a vote and has repeatedly criticized the Democrats in the House of Representatives for taking months to approve it and send it on to the Senate. But it wasn’t just the other party or the other chamber stretching out the approval process.
“The road that we traveled to arrive at this meeting today tested my patience at times,” Grassley said in his opening statement at the committee hearing. “Take, as an example, taking 3 or 4 months to get the president to remove steel and aluminum tariffs. I don’t know how many White House meetings I attended where that was an issue. And I kinda got tired of hearing the words, ‘I like tariffs.’”
Grassley and other farm-state senators applauded the potential for the new agreement to help farmers and ranchers by providing more marketplace certainty for their exports.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said he’d heard consistently from farmers and ranchers in his state that they wanted to see the new agreement ratified.
“Crafting a final product that could gain the support of so many stakeholders is no easy task,” Roberts said, “especially in today’s climate, politically.”
The USMCA adds provisions for digital technologies that mostly didn’t exist in the mid-1990s. It will also broaden U.S dairy producers’ access to the Canadian market. Supporters say it will help create good-paying jobs and address some environment and labor concerns.
The leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the new deal on November 30, 2018. Mexico ratified it in June 2019 and the U.S. House approved it last month. It still needs a vote from the full U.S. Senate and Canadian ratification before it will go into effect.
The new provisions won over some former critics of NAFTA, but Grassley and other senators acknowledged compromises left many people disappointed in one provision or another.
“I wish the administration had been able to find a solution to restore C.O.O.L. (country of origin labeling), add value to our domestic ag products and to eliminate the risk of future trade sanctions,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., “But we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good. There are thousands of farmers and ranchers in my state and around the country who are waiting for the relief that this agreement will bring.”
The timeline for a full Senate vote remains uncertain because of the pending impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Grassley says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s delay in sending to the Senate the articles of impeachment is impeding Senate scheduling.
“I would suggest that if the articles of impeachment don’t come over this week, then maybe a week from now we can be discussing USMCA,” Grassley told reporters Tuesday morning.
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Iowa Public Radio’s Katie Peikes contributed to this report.